YOUNGSTOWN Diversion program gets drivers who lost licenses back on track
Charges are dismissed if a defendant completes terms of the program and gets a license.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University student Ryan Harmon said things have been tough since he lost his driver's license earlier this year.
Harmon, 21, had accrued too many points, and the license was suspended for six months.
Relying on his friends to take him places had become tedious.
Things got worse when Harmon was pulled over for speeding May 6 and officers discovered he was driving with the suspended license. They also cited him with a seat-belt violation.
But now, Harmon is hopeful that he'll get his license back and the charges dismissed.
He is one of three people to be the first to take part in a program that began Wednesday in the courtroom of Youngstown Municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly.
The diversion program is offered to those charged with driving under suspension, driving with no operator's license and driving with an expired license.
If participants complete terms of the program, they receive their license and Judge Kobly will dismiss the charges against them.
"You shouldn't have much difficulty obtaining your license," Judge Kobly told Harmon in court. "If you complete the program, I'll have no difficulty dismissing the charges. ... But you need to understand that if you don't, you will have a sentencing hearing."
Also in the program
Besides Harmon, Tiffany Happney, 23, of Youngstown, and Joseph Allen, 62, of Youngstown, began the program Wednesday.
Happney, who was arrested on a driving-under-suspension violation in July, said she's been without a license for two years and has had to rely on others for transportation.
"This will help me out a lot because I'm getting a chance to get my license back," she said.
The program is a good alternative for those who qualify, said Todd Horlick, Happney's attorney.
"It allows people a second chance, but it's also a very good incentive for them to get their licenses, and it gives them assistance getting through the red tape."
To be accepted into the program, the defendants had to enter guilty pleas to their offenses.
An ingredient in the program is the court probation department, where officers screen prospective participants for eligibility and then help guide them through the sometimes complicated Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles requirements for having their licenses reinstated.
If defendants complete the terms and obtain a license, Judge Kobly said, she will dismiss the charges. If not, she will sentence them.
A driving-under-suspension conviction carries a maximum of six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine, she said.
In response to the high volume of driving without a valid license cases that come through her court, Judge Kobly announced the program earlier this month.
She called such offenses the No. 1 crime in the city.
She said the program will help prevent repeat offenses and restore licensed drivers to the community.