First-time, nonviolent offenders in Lake County could get second chance
The Lake County state's attorney's office is introducing a new program designed to help first-time offenders in misdemeanor cases avoid having their permanent record marred by one bad decision.
The Misdemeanor Alternative Prosecution Program will allow nonviolent offenders to keep their record clean if they meet a set of requirements that may include restitution, drug counseling, public service or writing a letter of apology to their victims.
"The value of this program is twofold: First, it makes the victims of crime whole. Secondly, it provides a unique opportunity for offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to improve their lives, and to avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said in an announcement of the program. "That is a win-win for Lake County."
Under the plan, an offender would enter the program through a referral from a victim, the state's attorney's office, a private attorney, a public defender or a police officer. From there, a screening process would include feedback from the victim and arresting police department.
The state's attorney's office will make the final decision on whether to allow an offender into the program.
Assistant Lake County State's Attorney Michael Ori said those accused of a violent crime -- like an assault or battery -- or sex-related offenses will be excluded. Those charged with minor drug offenses, retail thefts and property crimes would be allowed.
The charge would be dismissed and offenders can have their record expunged if they complete the requirements.
"This is the best opportunity to keep your record clean," Ori said.
Other potential requirements for those in the program include making a donation to a Lake County anti-crime program and paying court costs.
A defendant who fails to complete the requirements will be removed from the program and the case will be returned to regular court.
"It affords first-time nonviolent offenders with misdemeanors the opportunity to accept responsibility, pay their debt to society, and maintain a clean record," Ori said.
This new program follows the already successful Alternative Prosecution Program in place for first-time, nonviolent felony offenders.
That program has been in place since June 2016, and has already had 18 successful graduates, officials said.