COVINGTON, Ga. — A Newton County judicial system program giving some low-level offenders chances to eventually have clean records has been updated.
District Attorney Randy McGinley said the program now is a more streamlined and effective process while also being open to a wider array of low-level offenses.
“It accomplishes everything that I think is important in such a program,” McGinley said.
“It holds those that committed crimes accountable, it protects victims and our communities, and it gives those that have made a mistake a second chance that won’t follow them around for life, all while building trust in our criminal justice process,” he said.
“One important thing that has not changed is that victims will always be consulted prior to a participants’ entry into the program.”
The Alcovy Judicial Circuit’s Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTIP) began in 2017 and has helped hundreds of individuals get a second chance at having a clean record, McGinley said.
Georgia law allows for the District Attorney’s Office to create and administer such a program — with entry into the program at the discretion of the District Attorney based upon written guidelines.
However, by law any crime that requires a mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration or imprisonment that cannot be probated is ineligible for participation in the program, he said.
McGinley said the prosecutor assigned to the case screens those who apply for the program — or whom the DA’s office gives an offer to participate — to determine whether the case qualifies, he said in a news release.
A new feature, though, is the assigned prosecutor will decide which of two tracks the participant’s case fits in: Track I is the “drug track” and Track II is the non-drug track, the release stated.
Track I will cover both drug possession crimes and crimes that arose from substance abuse issues, he said.
It is a longer program than the non-drug track and includes intensive drug screening and treatment designed to address the participant’s underlying problems with addiction, McGinley said.
In addition to shifting to the two-track system, McGinley said other major changes to the program include:
• More drug possession crimes will qualify for participation, including all Schedule III, IV, and V substances as well as marijuana.
Schedule III drugs are steroids; Schedule IV are drugs like Xanax and Valium, and Schedule V drugs are those that must be lawfully prescribed, according to state law.
"More serious drugs that are listed in Schedules I and II are not eligible because of the nature of those substances,” McGinley said.
Schedule I are drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs are cocaine, methamphetamine, Hydrocodone, opium, Codeine and others.
“Exceptions are made for THC oil and cocaine,” he said.
“Additionally, cases involving a small number of marijuana plants that are clearly for personal use only will be eligible for entry into the program."
Crimes involving sale, trafficking and possession with intent to distribute will continue to be ineligible for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit PTIP.
Track I can be supervised from six to 12 months, while Track II, the non-drug track cases, can be supervised for between three to six months, McGinley said.
• The District Attorney’s Office will hand off responsibility for supervising participants to Georgia Probation Management.
“This puts supervision in the hands of those who do that regularly while freeing time for DA’s investigators to focus on serious and violent crimes,” McGinley said.
• Any restitution due to victims will now be paid in full at the initial supervision meeting.
“Therefore, victims will more quickly be made whole,” McGinley said.
• There will be a monthly supervision fee but the initial fee to enter the program has been lowered, he said.
• Payments will now be made to Georgia Probation Management instead of the Clerk’s Office of each county, which expands the methods by which payments can be made, such as online methods.
He said the Alcovy PTIP serves as an alternative to the traditional prosecution of first-time and lower level offenders by diverting them from the criminal justice system “while also keeping the community safe and ensuring justice for victims,” McGinley said.
Those who successfully complete the program will have their charges dismissed and the arrest automatically expunged from their record.
McGinley said the program supervises participants to protect the community.
It is designed to deter future criminal conduct; reduce the number of less serious cases in the courts; and provide restitution to the victim, McGinley said.
The program seeks to provide an offender an opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions without having a criminal conviction on the offender’s record;
It also seeks to provide rehabilitative services, life skills training and other opportunities to correct the underlying issues that led to criminal activity instead of incarceration, McGinley said.
"As both offices continue to diligently and successfully work towards resolving any backlog of ready for trial cases, we recognize that non-violent and less serious crimes committed by those with no criminal history can often be resolved through intervention rather than prosecution,” he said.
More information is available in the PTIP Handbook, including details as to what cases may or may not be eligible.
A copy of the handbook is available by visiting https://www.alcovydaoffice.org/pretrial-diversion-program.