Drug Court – A Conviction Alternative. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
As criminal defense lawyers | attorneys, after lengthy consultations and evaluations with clients and families, we have helped a number of clients get into Washington’s Drug court program as an alternative to a criminal conviction and addiction. Aside from the significant benefit that drug court offers: if you participate in the program, get clean, graduate from the program (approximately somewhere between 18-24 months though we have seen graduations in 11 months), the court will dismiss the felony drug charge, this program provides weekly access to a judge and an interested and knowledgeable group of people who will support a potential candidate. Given the number of addicts that this program sees, and given the program starts out with weekly meeting with a Superior Court judge, the idea of entering this program to game the system is not wise and a waste of time for all involved. We counsel against entering this program unless you are ready for it. That being said, if someone is struggling with addiction, needs support and access to people who know the programs (from opioid weaning to good NA meetings), as well as need constant interaction with a judge and accountability, this is it. Personally, we have had a great deal of success with our clients who entered this program: perhaps it has to do with the time we take to talk with clients about the program and because we screen out those it will likely not work for (sometimes people are just not ready). Or, perhaps it is our tendency to check in with them through the process or just good luck, but we have seen miraculous changes happen in this program with family support.
How do I quality for Drug Court?
Drug court is a federally funded program that needs a certain level of success to justify its existence, and as the program offers a felony criminal conviction alternative, it is a big deal. As a result, qualification and entry into the program is strictly regulated and screened. The decision to let someone into drug court is primarily made by the prosecuting attorney’s office with police officer input. On filing, the prosecutor’s office may directly recommend the charge go to drug court (absent an objection by the police department based on their knowledge of the defendant). That being said, a criminal defense attorney | lawyer may request, either to the prosecutor’s office or directly to the court, that a specific case be considered. We have done this a number of times. A defense attorney can argue to change charging documents to allow a party who might otherwise qualify into the program.
So what are the qualifications?
- You need to be charged in a County that has drug court. At present, only 23 counties have the program. Check with your local court, ask our criminal defense attorneys | lawyers or check this Washington State court directory and make a call. In general, if you live in a large county, you probably have one.
- You need to qualify. The eligibility can vary with the County; but, to give you an idea, we have attached King County’s drug court program requirements and a copy of the Drug Court Waiver and Agreement Forms you sign to enter the program. The qualifications for drug court are rigid and inflexible. Review or have your criminal defense lawyer | attorney compare your charges to the program and see if you qualify. Ask your criminal defense lawyer whether it is worth exploring whether the prosecutor’s office might amend charges to allow you to qualify.
- There must be a reasonable basis to believe you can complete the program. This means the client, the family and your criminal defense lawyer | attorney must have talked at length and decided whether this program is a good match. From this discussion, the lawyer and client must be able to articulate why drug court is a good alternative to handling a criminal charge in regular court. Remember, entering drug court does not mean you will graduate. Failure does happen so knowing why you are there and what your goal is helps tremendously.
- How long is drug court? When drug court first started, we remember the program being longer than it is now. Now, the program can be as short at 10 months, an average is 15 months and the reality is it is closer to 18 months (or longer) once you factor in the entire process. It all depends on the client’s progress through the 4 stages, the type and degree of addiction and any other issues that arise. Remember this program has seen thousands of addicts and this program knows that providing the long-term support helps prevent relapse. You must earn your freedom.
Lastly, here is an interesting article on drug court featured in the New York Times back when Judge Saint Claire ran the program fro King County. His replacement is equally competent. It gives one perspective on this program. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/us/15drugs.html?_r=3&hp&oref=slogin&
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are interested and experienced in helping clients and families pursue sentencing alternatives under the right set of facts and will fight vigorously to achieve the right result. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.