Drug Court is an alternative to traditional Criminal Court Practice. It was created to treat drug and addiction cases with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than incarceration for crimes that have a basis in substance abuse. The emphasis is on changing the Defendant’s life. The important aspect is that the Defendant has a substance abuse problem, not that there are drugs involved. This distinction is important. Drug Dealers and crimes that involve sale of controlled substances normally don’t qualify for Drug Court. A person selling controlled substances for profit would not be considered to have a problem for which drug court is appropriate. People selling controlled substances to feed their own habit could and probably would be found appropriate for Drug Court.
Felony Drug Court takes place at the County Courthouse. A Defendant’s Attorney may ask the Assistant District Attorney for Diversion to Drug Court. The ADA may ask the Defendant’s Attorney if their client would be interested if they think the matter is appropriate. Depending on the circumstances of each instant case, a Defendant may go to a short, inhouse “dry out’ facility for 30 days and then enter long term inpatient and then outpatient program. Many facilities like Daytop Village and Lexington Center have both inpatient and outpatient programs. The initial inpatient the Defendant frequently attends is for the Defendant to detoxify him/herself. The Defendant would then attend a longer program which normally concentrates on teaching the defendant how to remain non-intoxicated and how to cope. The defendant would attend their program and continue showing up at Drug Court so the Defendant’s progress can be monitored up until the time the Defendant graduates from Drug Court. Upon graduation the Defendant’s felony charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor charge.
This is a tough, time consuming program. It can be very effective with some people. The Court is usually very tough on prospective Drug Court Defendants because they want people who are going to complete the program and graduate. This is not a program for someone who isn’t going to make it the biggest priority in their life. Many people cannot work during their time in Drug Court and must collect disability so that they have the time necessary to do the intensive rehabilitation required for this program. People who enter the program and fail usually end up at a minimum pleading out to a felony, usually Possession of a Controlled Substance, 3rd Degree. There is usually five years of probation as well for those that don’t graduate. There could be some incarceration too depending on what act causes that Defendant to fail.
Drug Court is a valuable program because it keeps the defendant from having a felony record on top of helping the Defendant deal with his/her substance abuse problem. A Defendant that already has a felony record would not normally be eligible for Drug Court. One of the purposes of Drug Court is to catch a Defendant from falling between the cracks and taking a felony record who could be a productive member of society but for his/her substance abuse problem.
Misdemeanor Drug Court is similar to Felony Drug Court except it occurs at a local Town Justice Court and is overseen by that town’s Justice Court Judge. The Misdemeanor Drug Court periodically moves from one town to another and all the other towns courts cede their authority to that Justice Court for the purpose of Drug Court. The Defendant is usually in an out-patient program that is being monitored through the Misdemeanor Drug Court. The Defendant graduates from Drug Court and his/her misdemeanor is reduced to a violation.
Many Rehab Programs are not effective when people are forced to join them. Drug Court is usually an eighteen (18) month program to help compensate for this. I believe Drug Court is a very valuable program because it gives people a second chance.
I want to be very clear on the issue of representation in the Drug Court Programs. It is my job to get the Defendant in the program. Once the Defendant is in the program, my representation stops. The Defendant is then represented by a public defender while he/she is in the program. Should the Defendant not succeed in Drug Court, I could then be re-retained to represent the defendant on sentencing of the original charge. The Defendant must plead guilty to the original charge before he/she is allowed to join the Drug Court Program. Upon successful completion of the rehab program and graduation of Drug Court, the original charge is reduced. This means that upon leaving Drug Court without graduating, the Defendant will be sentenced for the original charge. This is not a good place for a defendant to be. The Defendant would have more flexibility getting a favorable disposition in a plea bargain without Drug Court than he/she will upon unsuccessfully leaving the program.
A complaint I’ve heard frequently about Drug Court is that people have to work and don’t have the time. This is probably the poorest excuse anyone could think of. I have seen multiple defendants say that, not go into the program, take a plea to a felony and then lose the job they had and then not be able to get another job due to the record they now have instead of going into the Drug CourtProgram.
Once a defendant has already done jail or prison time, that defendant is more likely to be sentenced on a subsequent charge to incarceration. Drug Court is the systems attempt to give people a second chance and possibly rehabilitate them. Once a defendant shows that they are not able to be rehabilitated, they tend to be sentenced to incarceration. Drug Court is a good program that really does help people from falling through the cracks of the Criminal Justice System and defendants should seriously consider it and try to get into and complete Drug Court if it’s offered to them.