How to Apply for the New Pretrial Diversion Program in Federal Court

Accountability courts and pretrial diversion allow some people that have been charged with a federal criminal avoid prison and a criminal record. Federal district courts across the country are now experimenting with these projects, including the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.

On April 11, the federal court in Atlanta announced the formation of a new pretrial diversion court, the Accountability, Treatment, and Leadership Court (ATL Court), which will provide rehabilitation opportunities to certain criminal defendants while also allowing them to avoid serving prison time. As a joint creation of the District Court, the U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Defender Program, the court will be run by a body of representatives from each of these agencies known as the ATL Court Team.

Participants in the ATL Court will plead guilty with a binding plea agreement under Rule 11(c)(1)(C) and enter into a 12–24-month period of intensive supervision wherein they must participate in individualized treatment and education programs. Upon successful completion of all their requirements, participants will receive whichever benefit they were promised in their initial plea agreement: either a sentence on their original charge without prison time, a reduction of their charge to a misdemeanor (also without prison time), or a complete dismissal of their case.

Not everyone will be eligible for the program. Since it is a new program, only people who were formally charged in 2022 or later can apply. While there are no other positive requirements a defendant must meet to enter it, all participants must be unanimously approved by the entire ATL Court Team.  Additionally, certain things have been identified by the court as factors that will cause a person to be presumed ineligible, though exceptions can be made.

In particular, the program will exclude most people with the following charges:

  • any offense that involves using or threatening violence or directing someone else to use or threaten violence
  • possession of a firearm during an offense
  • possession or receipt of a firearm by a prohibited person
  • any terrorism offense
  • any human trafficking offense
  • any child exploitation offense, including possession or distribution of child pornography
  • any other sexual offense serious enough to be classified as “Tier II” or “Tier III” under 34 U.S.C. §§ 20911(3) and (4)

Additional factors that may keep someone from being accepted to the program:

  • significant involvement with large-scale fraud or drug distribution schemes
  • prior convictions for Tier II or III sexual offenses
  • prior deportation and removal by immigration authorities
  • a criminal history or offense that would disqualify the defendant from receiving the benefit of the “Safety Valve” under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)

The ATL Court is a pilot initiative in the Northern District, and so for its first two years it will only be available in the Atlanta. Several other jurisdictions operate diversion courts with various requirement, however, including:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also operates a Pretrial Diversion Program entirely within its own discretion that is available in any district.

All federal diversion programs accept only a limited number of criminal defendants to participate. In the case of the ATL Court, a request to apply must be granted by the court team before a full application can even be submitted. If you or someone you love is interested in entering a federal diversion court, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you collect the needed documentation and present your application in the best possible light.

Our team can help you to prove that you are eligible under the court’s requirements—or to argue for an exception if you are not. For your application, we will compile a package of information about your circumstances, health history, character, and other needed details and then advocate for you to the court. Finally, if you are accepted, we will work to negotiate fair terms for your plea agreement and help you navigate its requirements while you remain in the program.

Our firm has decades of experience helping people successfully resolve and sometimes avoid federal charges. We have represented clients in federal courts in Atlanta, Virginia, Washington DC, and across the country. To find out more about how our firm can help with your specific case, contact us today.


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