Blog

Extending a Second Chance to First-Time Offenders

06/18/2024
SouthLight's Court Services

For the past 34 years, SouthLight’s Court Services has been administering the drug and alcohol diversion programs for the Wake County District Court. Through our partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, SouthLight has provided treatment and drug/alcohol education classes to thousands of defendants. 

Who is Eligible for SouthLight’s Diversion Program? 

Defendants who meet specific criteria mandated by the District Attorney are eligible to participate in the diversion program. To qualify, participants must have a clean record for at least five years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felony charges.  

Individuals with previous charges that are violent or abusive will not be allowed to enter the program. Participants will need to engage in 15 hours of drug/alcohol education or undergo a clinical assessment with recommended treatment services. Upon successful completion, the District Attorney will dismiss their case, and they will be eligible to apply for an expungement. 

“A criminal conviction carries serious consequences that undermine one’s ability to obtain employment, enroll in school, or obtain housing. For first time offenders, SouthLight diversion programs provide an off ramp from prosecution and allows participants an opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes. These programs allow for accountability while extending a second chance to move through life without the stigma and burden that comes from a criminal conviction.” 

—The Honorable District Court Judge David K. Baker

An Asset to the Court System

I have been fortunate to assist and witness thousands of defendants complete the diversion program. Many former participants have become prominent members of society, pursuing careers in medicine, law enforcement, teaching, counseling, law, engineering, and many other professional fields. The diversion program is an asset to the court system providing defendants an opportunity to avoid the stigma of having a drug or alcohol conviction on their record. 

The Wake County Diversion Program serves an average of 3,000 people each year, and concluded the year 2023 with a success rate of 94%. This success is attributed to the support we receive from the District Attorney’s Office and our District Court Judges. 

Joseph F. Smith, MPA, Deputy Division Director

Joseph F. Smith, MPA Director of Judicial Services

Joseph F. Smith, “Joe” has been serving the community with SouthLight for over 25 years.

“I can’t believe how fast time flies!” says Joe. “Looking back, I remember my first day feeling nervous, but it’s been an amazing journey. I’m fortunate to witness the results of our work, and the best part is helping clients get their cases dismissed. I always wanted a job that helped the community, and I’m lucky to have found it at SouthLight.”

SouthLight manages one of the largest Pre-Trial Diversion programs in North Carolina. We have been a trusted resource for the District Attorney’s office, local attorneys and clients in need for over 30 years, and we are committed to creating safer, healthier communities for the citizens of Wake County.

Learn more about our Court Diversion Program by visiting the Court Services FAQ.