Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

Police, firefighters, paramedics, and other officials on the front lines of public safety often experience traumatic events that lead to mental health issues down the road. Sometimes, these mental health issues can land them in trouble with the law.

Fortunately, in Tarrant County, there is a pre-trial diversion program for public safety employees who are facing criminal charges but would be better served by treatment and rehabilitation, rather than punishment. If they successfully complete the program, their case will be dismissed and their record will remain clean. The program – officially titled Tarrant County Public Safety Employees Treatment Court (PSETC) – is also commonly referred to as the Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program.

In this article, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will explain the Tarrant County Public Safety Employees Treatment Court, including the criteria, application process, and program goals. They will also answer some frequently asked questions about diversion programs in general and how they can help people who deserve a second chance.

Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

The Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program is presided over by state District Judge Charles Vanover – who also presides over the Tarrant County Veteran’s Court. Both programs are similar, in that they are designed to provide treatment and rehabilitation, rather than punishment, to defendants who are facing criminal charges but need mental health services due to their service and sacrifice.

The program, which is codified in Chapter 129 of the Texas Government Code, focuses on first responders who suffer from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder — such as post-traumatic stress disorder — that occurred during or resulted from their job as a public safety employee.

Eligible defendants can bypass criminal prosecution and instead go into a treatment-based program tailored specifically for their case and needs. If they successfully complete the program, their case will be dismissed and their record will remain clean.

Eligible Officials for Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

Several types of first responders are eligible for Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program as long as they meet the program’s strict criteria for entry including:

  • Peace Officers
  • Firefighters
  • Detention Officers
  • County Jailers
  • Emergency Medical Services Employees
  • Emergency Service dispatchers

Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

Criteria for Admission in the Tarrant County First Responders Diversion Program

The Tarrant County First Responder’s Diversion Program is not for every public safety official that gets arrested. To be accepted into the program, the defendant must meet the following criteria:

The defendant must be employed or have prior employment as a peace officer, firefighter, detention officer, county jailer, or emergency medical services employee of this state or a political subdivision of this state who:

(1) Suffers from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, that:

(A) occurred during or resulted from the defendant’s duties as a public safety employee; and

(B) affected the defendant’s criminal conduct at issue in the case; or

(2) is a defendant whose participation in a public safety employees treatment court program, considering the circumstances of the defendant’s conduct, personal and social background, and criminal history, is likely to achieve the objective of ensuring public safety through rehabilitation.

Applicant must live or work in Tarrant County.

The Application Process for the Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

The application process for the Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program can be somewhat involved. Our attorneys regularly get defendants accepted into Tarrant County’s diversion programs and would be glad to help guide you through the process. Here’s an overview of how it works:

Referral

A public safety defendant must be referred to the program. Referrals are accepted from a variety of sources, including law enforcement, jail staff, judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, mental health agencies, and family or friends.

** The applicant’s attorney must approve the submission of the application.

Intake Process

Once a referral is received, the Tarrant County Public Safety Employees Treatment Court (PSETC) office will review it to ensure the minimum criterium are met. This includes verification of public safety service and mental health records. The application is then submitted to the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for preliminary approval/denial.

Preliminary Approval

If given preliminary approval, applicants are scheduled for the PSETC orientation where they will learn program requirements and expectations as well as meet the PSETC staff. Applicants who wish to proceed after attending orientation will be scheduled for a comprehensive mental health evaluation with a mental health evaluator. After completion of a mental health evaluation, a final summary and recommendation will be completed by the program manager and submitted to the District’s Attorney’s office for final approval or denial.

Final Approval

If given final approval, applicants are scheduled for admission into the PSETC where they will be required to enter a plea of guilty. The applicant’s defense attorney and the court where their case was filed will receive a notice of approval of the program and again when they are discharged from the program.

If the applicant successfully completes the program, their case will be dismissed. If they fail to complete the program, their case will proceed to formal sentencing based on the original guilty plea. In other words, there will be a sentencing hearing and the judge will assess their punishment, which means the defendant will be exposed to the full range of punishment of the charge.

Conditions of the Tarrant County Public Safety Employees Treatment Court

To successfully complete PSETC, you must abide by and agree to the following conditions:

  • Must a plea of guilty upon admission into the PSETC.
  • Must not commit a criminal offense for the duration of the program.
  • Must not consume alcohol or non-prescribed substances.
  • Must submit to random drug testing.
  • Must comply with treatment and counseling as recommended.
  • Must take all psychiatric medications as prescribed by treating physician.
  • Must keep all appointments and attend all compliance hearings as scheduled.
  • Must agree to report to PSETC case manager as directed.
  • Must keep the program staff informed of any changes in address, telephone number, and employer.
  • Must consent to the release of protected information as permitted under Texas law.
  • Must have no contact with any person of disreputable or harmful character.
  • Must acknowledge that failure to comply with any term of this agreement will may result in termination from the PSETC and case(s) may be remanded to the traditional court system for prosecution.
  • Must acknowledge that the successful completion of this agreement shall cause result in immediate dismissal of the eligible offenses.
  • Must attend monthly compliance hearings held in open court as directed.
  • Must agree to follow all directives given by the PSETC staff.

Again, if you successfully complete the program, your case will be dismissed and the arrest will be eligible for expunction. If you fail to complete, the program, you will be prosecuted like any other defendant and exposed to the full range of punishment.
Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

What You Should Know About Tarrant County PSETC Program

If you are accepted into Tarrant Counth’s PSETC program, you should expect the following:

Individualized Treatment

This is not a one-size fit all approach. You will be given an individualized treatment plan and you will receive services for education, counseling and other needs, which are provided by outside agencies.

Supervised Monitoring

You will go through a series of phases to measure your progress. A case manager will monitor your progress and work closely with the program manager and service providers.

Compliance Hearing

You will be required to attend monthly compliance hearings in court. During the hearing, the progress of each participant is reviewed in open court. Both incentives and sanctions are used as methods of motivation.

Disposition Of Court Case

The Public Safety Employees Treatment Court can range from 8 months to 2 years. How long you are in it depends on your needs and compliance. If you successfully complete the program, your case(s) are dismissed. If you fail to complete the program, your cases will be sent back to the original court in which they were filed for continued prosecution.

Goal Of The Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

The PSETC was designed to recognize and treat the mental health issues underlying a public safety employee’s legal troubles, rather than simply punish them for their actions. Through treatment of the root cause instead of punishment, participants in the PSETC program will find themselves with less professional, personal and financial consequences than if they were to go through traditional criminal justice proceedings.

The ultimate goal of the program is to assess the needs of public safety employee, offer assistance, manage their care, and provide them with successful treatment options that results in a favorable resolution of their criminal case(s).

Background Of Texas Public Safety Employees Treatment Court

Texas’ Public Safety Treatment Court is the first of its kind not only in Texas, but in the United States. In 2018, the Texas Legislature passed HB 3391, authorizing the creation of the nation’s first public safety employees treatment court in the Lone Star State. The law – now codified in Chapter 129 of the Texas Government Code – basically allows public safety employees to enter the program regardless of whether it is a felony or misdemeanor offense – as long as they can show that they “suffered from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder that occurred during or resulted from the defendant’s duties as a public safety employee and affected the criminal conduct at issue” and “participation in the program was likely to achieve the objective of ensuring public safety through rehabilitation.”

The law also requires that the defendant be provided with an attorney before volunteering for the program; an individualized treatment plan, and an opportunity to withdraw from the program at any point prior to trial. .

Success of PSETC in Tarrant County and Texas

The PSETC has shown significant success in Tarrant County and throughout Texas. The program has witnessed a considerable decrease in recidivism rates among participants, with many completing the program and returning to their duties with improved mental and physical health. Notably, the program has also facilitated better community relations with public safety employees.

Aside from Tarrant County, several other Texas counties have implemented the PSETC program, including Dallas, Travis, and Harris Counties. These counties have also reported similar success rates, indicating the program’s effectiveness in achieving its set goals.

Interested in Tarrant County’s First Responder Diversion Program? Contact Us.

Varghese Summersett is here to help first responders who have served our community and are now paying the price of their sacrifice. If you have been arrested and are a police officer, firefighter, jail official, or another first responsder, please call us at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation. We have helped numerous people gain entry into the Tarrant County First Responder Program and we would like the opportunity to try and help you, too. We are committed to ensuring public safety employees receive the specialized treatment they need and deserve.
Tarrant County First Responder Diversion Program

FAQs About Tarrant County Parenting Classes
What is a diversion program in Texas criminal cases?

A diversion program is an alternative to prosecution which diverts certain offenders from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision and services. In Texas, these programs are designed to help eligible individuals avoid conviction and keep their criminal record clean by completing specific requirements, such as community service, counseling, or drug testing and treatment.

Who is eligible for a diversion program in Texas?

Eligibility for diversion programs in Texas can vary by county and by the specific program. Generally, eligibility is determined based on factors like the type and severity of the offense, the offender’s criminal history, and their willingness to comply with the program’s requirements. Some programs may only be available to first-time offenders, while others might be open to individuals with prior convictions.

Do you have to be guilty to be accepted into a Tarrant County diversion program?

Yes, diversion programs are meant for individuals who are guilty of the offense for which they are charged. If you believe you are not guilty of an offense, your defense attorney will advise you on how to best contest your guilt and not advise you to apply for a diversion program.

Is there a cost to Tarrant County’s First Responder Diversion Program?

The law authorizes the collection of a program fee of up to $1,000, plus the costs of testing, counseling, and treatment.

Are diversion programs hard to get into?

They can be. Diversion programs are meant for individuals who are motivated to change. That means they are willing to put in the work. That is why the application process is often extensive and requires the collaboration of multiple organizations, including law enforcement, probation and mental health professionals. They want people who are serious about rehabilitation and truly deserve a second chance.

Does Tarrant County offer other diversion programs?

Yes, Tarrant County offers a number of diversion programs including for first-time offenders, veterans, and people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues. Click here for more information on Tarrant County’s Diversion Program. The defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett can also help you understand your options and determine if you qualify for any of the available programs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation today.

Can participation in a pre-trial diversion program be expunged from your record in Texas?

Yes, in Texas, if you successfully complete a pre-trial diversion program and your charges are dismissed, you may be eligible to have the record of your arrest expunged. An expunction effectively erases the arrest from your record, as if it never occurred. However, the expunction process is separate and requires filing a petition with the court.

What happens if someone fails to complete a diversion program in Tarrant County?

If a participant in a diversion program fails to meet the program requirements — such as missing appointments, not completing community service, or getting arrested for another offense — they could be removed from the program. In such cases, the original criminal charges would be reinstated, and the case would proceed through the traditional criminal justice process.

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