From: Virginia Kautz
Zumbro Falls, Minn.
The Safe Driving Class in Wabasha County sheds confusion, not light, on what a legal diversion program is. The definition as it pertains to the law is this: “a program designed to enable criminal offenders the option of doing a community program. The purpose of a diversion program is to effect rehabilitation without the stigma of guilt.”
The Safe Driving Class is considered a diversion program but it is not a “legal” diversion program as defined by the law. All counties in the state of Minnesota are governed by the state and, therefore, counties must abide by the state laws and statues. Minnesota Statute requires the county attorney to have pretrial diversion for qualifying offenders. So it is the decision of a prosecutor (attorney) to refer an offender to a diversion program. These offenses are handled at the discretion of a prosecutor (county attorney) and is solely within the prosecutor’s (attorney’s) discretion.
The procedure that makes Wabasha County’s diversion program illegal is that this discretion is left solely to the officer that writes the citation. The officer becomes judge, prosecutor and jury and has total power over whether or not the offender is offered the Safe Driving Class Diversion Program.
Due to the fact that the officer is allowed to make this call opens yet another can of worms, uniformity. Two of my family members were issued citations and one was offered the safe driving class option and one wasn’t. Their driving records were identical but they were treated differently. Why is one person offered the class and not the other one? Was the officer having a bad day?
Then there is the problem of fiscal accountability. Over $400,000 has been collected through this program. Due to the fact it is an illegal program, there are no checks and balances in place and no audit trail for this money. For instance, if 25% of the people paid in cash, there is $100,000 for which there is no audit trail and no record of what was done with that cash. We are left with whatever they say they used the money for and sometimes the honor system lacks honor.
The “To Whom it May Concern” memo from Judge Walters states the Safe Driving Class to be a ”form of diversion.” Note that he doesn’t say a “legal one,” he only says it’s a form of one.
Finally when you have a county attorney and sheriff that make their own rules and disregard the laws and statues, all you really have is a “police state.” Anyone driving in Wabasha County is at their mercy.
It would be very easy for the county attorney and the sheriff to make this program legal, so why have they not done so?