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Alternative sentencing program for federal offenders

Arkansas residents may be interested to learn about a new sentencing program being offered to federal offenders in Southern California. Conviction and Sentence Alternatives, or CASA, is designed to keep low-level offenders out of the prison system. After being charged with a federal crime, participants in the program must plead guilty in order to qualify. After completing all of the program's requirements, a jail sentence may be avoided, and, in some cases, charges will be erased.

Some of the requirements of CASA include random drug screenings, attendance at CASA meetings and participation in alcohol treatment programs. Participants are also assigned a pretrial service officer who they are required to meet with on a regular basis. Although programs similar to CASA already exist throughout the country, they are usually only open to defendants who are accused of drug crimes. CASA is the first alternative sentencing program to be open to federal offenders.

Not everyone who commits a federal crime in Southern California gets accepted into CASA. Out of 1,500 cases that are screened, only 50 defendants become CASA participants. According to an assistant U.S. attorney, the people who are chosen for CASA are those who judges believe have a good chance of remaining out of the criminal justice system. The decision to bet on those people, he says, is not taken lightly.

Although CASA is not available all over the country, other programs exist to help keep defendants out of the prison system. If a defendant chooses to plead guilty to a crime, an experienced criminal defense lawyer is sometimes able to help arrange a plea deal. A plea deal may help defendants avoid time in prison as long as they are willing to submit to a set of requirements.

Source: LA Times, "Alternative program gives federal defendants a second chance", Jill Cowan, October 22, 2013

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