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Determining When Drug Court is the Right Option

Drug Courts have demonstrated success at reducing recidivism, but the Defendant is subject to considerable supervision and hefty sanctions. Drug Court provides a structured environment for participants to heal from addiction. On the other hand, the courts also render swift sanctions in the event of any relapse; these sanctions can range from delaying graduation, to imposing jail time, and even revocation from the Drug Court program. The Drug Court program is a great opportunity to get the charge dismissed in their entirety, but the journey is not an easy option. Any defendant considering entering drug court had better first take time to consider what they want in the end: only the defendant can choose to get clean, and entering the Drug Court program without the requisite motivation will only waste time. Know yourself, and know your options!

Drug Crimes

A Drug Crime describes any offense involving a controlled substance. Both state and federal laws have rendered a panoply of substances unlawful to possess, use, distribute, or produce. Examples of these substances include, but are not limited to, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines.

Drugs are classified into schedules based on their potential for harm, and their potential for legitimate therapeutic use. Schedule I controlled substances have a high potential for dependency and lack any accepted medical value. Whereas schedule V substances are considered to have a low potential for dependency and considerable medical value.

Possessing, using, distributing, or producing controlled substances are considered drug crimes. Punishment for the aforementioned crimes varies broadly across the jurisdictions, but the criminal sentence associated with drug crimes is generally based on the quantity, schedule classification of the substance, and the reason for possession. While many charges involving the production and distribution of controlled substances are generally considered serious felonies without alternatives to typical criminal processes; crimes such as possession are considered relatively minor and many lenient measures are available to those types of defendants.

Utah Drug Court

The Utah Drug Court program has made the rather progressive choice to permit even serious felony level drug crimes to be dismissed under certain circumstances. Defendants are only eligible for the Utah Drug Court if they are charged with simple possession, but the court willingly accepts even felony level offenders. Drug court is a minimum of 1 year, with at least six-months of clean drug tests prior to completing the program.

The Drug Court is an environment wherein the judge is actively involved in the progress of each defendant. In order to enter Drug Court, defendants must enter a guilty plea that is held in abeyance until the defendant successfully completes the program. Defendants undergo intensive treatment and regular counseling, are subject to frequent and randomized drug testing protocols, are monitored by a probation officer, and must regularly appear before the presiding judge. Drug Court is intended to rehabilitate and provide proper medical treatment for those addicted to controlled substances and is intended to operate holistically in order to provide a more humane option for defendants struggling with addiction. Upon graduation, the guilty plea is withdrawn from the court and all criminal charges against the defendant are dismissed by the state.

Salt Lake City Drug Court

145 East 1300 South Suite #501
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
(385) 468-3500

Advantages and Disadvantages of Drug Court Programs

Drug treatment courts are generally thought of as alternatives to incarceration inasmuch as they are valued as services intended to ameliorate addiction in the community. However, most Drug Court participants receive a long sentence held in abeyance, but which can be imposed at any time. Various studies show that although the point at which offenders are incarcerated is different, the total number of days spent in custody is slightly smaller for Drug Court participants than for defendants not in the program. Drug treatment court participants spend fewer days behind bars prior to the disposition of their case, but about twice as many days behind bars as a result of judicial sanctions. These incarcerations result from formal violations of probation as well as informal incarcerations in response to failure to comply with the expectation of Drug Court. The heavy use of incarceration in response to noncompliance raises equity issues that in the criminal justice community: ls it ethical to incarcerate drug treatment court cases for noncompliant behavior that would likely go unnoticed and unpunished in the absence of the program? Should clients agree to participate in a drug treatment court program if they will likely spend as many days incarcerated as they would with more traditional sentence for the crime?

On the other hand, the vast majority of adult drug court evaluations, even the most rigorous evaluations, find that participants have lower recidivism than non-participants. One study found that there was an average 12% drop in recidivism among Drug Court participants, and these effects lasted up to three years. More pronounced reductions in recidivism were exhibited among adult drug courts with high graduation rates and those that only accepted non-violent offenders. Evaluations of DWI drug courts found similar effects as those found in drug courts. However, Juvenile drug courts have demonstrated a substantially smaller impact on recidivism for unknown reasons.

Overall, the Drug Court is a double-edged blade. It is a proven path to rehabilitation. On the other hand, it is not an easy option, and many participants spend a lot of time incarcerated due to sanctions.

Weigh the Options with a Salt Lake City Defense Attorney

Consider the desired end-state and individual capacity. Lifestyle? Motivation? Desire for Change?

Prior to entering Drug Court, every defendant should think seriously about the decision. For folks who are unwilling or incapable of kicking their addiction, Drug Court is nothing more than a conviction with extra steps. At Wasatch Defense Lawyers, we want all our clients to have the best possible outcome. The best possible outcome will look different for each and every client. Where one client may find it highly desirable to take a plea bargain, another client may prefer to challenge the charges in open court. Wasatch Defense Lawyers want to educate their clientele about all the options available in order for the client to make the best possible choice.

If our clients want to seek the enlightened path of rehabilitation, we can help! If instead, our clients wish to avoid the pitfalls associated with long-term state monitoring, we can also optimize that outcome! What is important is for every client to understand that everything in the criminal justice system has pros and cons. And where Drug Court may be an ideal option for one client, it may be a totally inappropriate option for another.

Contact us at 801.980.9965 for your no-obligation case review to see how we can help!

Craig R. Chlarson