Informal disposition refers to the manner of obtaining a final disposition of a criminal matter without going through the normal processes of criminal justice system that results in the conviction of the offender. It is obtained without any judicial determination of guilt such as guilty pleas and decisions not to prosecute. However many of the programs available for informal dispositions may also be utilized as sentencing alternatives for those convicted through the traditional criminal process.
Different methods of informal disposition are available. One of the principal forms of informal disposition is a process known as "pretrial diversion" whereby an alleged offender's case is transferred into structured programs for rehabilitative purposes, such as mental health treatment or drug or alcohol abuse treatment, or for the payment of restitution and fines or community service. Alternatively, the criminal prosecution may be "deferred" for a period of time with the understanding that unless the person commits a subsequent offense in that period, the charges will be dismissed. Yet another option is to transfer an individual's case to another forum that would provide warnings against future wrongdoing as well as periodic supervision. For example, transfer of a minor to juvenile court.
One of the advantages of informal dispositions is that it helps to reduce the overburdened criminal caseloads of prosecutors and judges, as well as, in some jurisdictions, public defenders. The drive to reduce caseloads, cut costs, and promote the rehabilitation of offenders who have the potential to become law-abiding citizens has fueled a trend to create innovative new programs and even new forms of "courts" for producing the desired results without resort to the traditional criminal adjudication process.