Drug Court | A Conviction Alternative. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective on Drug Charges and Convictions | Alternatives to Guilty Pleas and Sentences
As criminal defense lawyers | attorneys, we play a key roll in helping clients and their families weigh, understand and eventually enroll (in some cases) into county based Drug Court programs. The Drug Court programs, available in some counties in Washington, are an alternative to being prosecuted, convicted and spending time behind bars on a felony involving an illegal drug or controlled substance. Aside from this significant personal 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 also dismiss the felony drug charge. This program | alternative provides, at least initially, weekly access to a judge, a caseworker, attorney, and a group of interested and knowledgeable people who will support a potential candidate and are highly knowledgeable in substance use and addiction. It is also the only alternative program that results in the felony being dismissed once the program is successfully completed. The problem is drug court is a difficult program and not all people are ready for such a program: it is really suited for addicts who know they are ready for help. How does an addict know they are ready for help? We only recommend this option after lengthy consultations and evaluations with clients and families. We are extremely careful to make sure our clients and their families really understand what they are getting into and we have an enormous amount of experience dealing with people and addiction. As criminal defense attorneys | lawyers, our experience is that the benefits of this Washington program are amazing but failure is treated harshly. We have had clients who were seriously addicted to an illegal drug or controlled substance find sobriety and happiness out of this program; we have also seen repeated relapse lead to failure and removal from this program. We find understanding what this program involves as well as committing to finding happiness and peace in sobriety are the primary keys to success vs. failure.
Given the number of people addicted to drugs that this program sees, and given the program starts out with a weekly meeting with a Superior Court judge who has met and evaluated a lot of addicts, the idea of entering this program to game the system is not wise and is a waste of time for all involved in our opinion. We counsel against those with illegal drug or controlled substance problems from entering this program unless they are ready for it and we, as counselors at law, believe the chances of completion are realistic. 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 believe they would benefit from the constant interaction with a judge and accountability, this is it. Personally, we have had a great deal of success with clients who we have helped enter this program: perhaps it has to do with the time we take to talk with clients about the program, perhaps it is because our clients understand what they would really be committing too (sometimes people are just not ready) or perhaps it is our tendency to check and remain available throughout the process. The bottom line is we have seen miraculous changes happen in this program.
King County Washington’s Drug Court was one of the first in the nation and its high success rate has helped other Drug Courts become established throughout the United States. It was even featured on a PBS program espousing its benefits over incarceration for convicted drug offenders. This 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 that these success rates remain high. As a result, qualification and entry into the program is strictly regulated and screened. Speak with our criminal defense attorneys to understand what this actually means. It is possible to explore other programs for a particular case, like mental health court or a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative, commonly called a DOSA, a First Time Felony Waiver or even a parenting sentencing alternative, it just depends on the facts of the case. Privately retaining the criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our firm buys the assurance that the time necessary to properly examine and resolve a particular situation and case is spent.
GETTING INTO DRUG COURT: IT IS NOT ALWAYS SIMPLE
The decision to recommend someone for drug court can be made by the prosecuting attorney’s office with some limited 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). The decision to recommend can also come from a criminal defense attorney | lawyer who 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. Defense lawyers | attorneys can also argue with the prosecuting attorney to change the charging documents to allow a party who might otherwise not qualify, qualify into the program. Doing this requires that your defense counsel be highly experienced with the realities of these kinds of cases and comfortable talking about a particular situation effectively with the assigned prosecuting lawyer or their supervisor. A defense attorney can also argue directly to the court and have the offender present themselves to the court over the prosecutor’s objections to try and be admitted to the Drug Court. We have also had success with this approach but the facts of the case and specific characteristics and personality of the person charged will determine if this approach is wise. We do not set people up to fail and do not make a habit of making losing arguments.
REQUIREMENTS FOR ADMISSION INTO DRUG COURT IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
As criminal defense attorneys | lawyers we need to know the law to help our clients, however, we have some general opinions that will help anyone considering this option.
The first opinion is anyone who is considering this option needs to know whether the particular Washington county resided in has a drug court. At present, only 23 counties have the program. Check with your local court, ask your criminal defense attorney | lawyer or check this Washington State court directory. In general, if you live in a large county, you probably have one. If not but you do have access to transportation, we have been successful in getting another county to admit an offender into their program, however, recognize this does put the financial and time burden on the offender and creates its own headaches. That being said, in some situations, it is worth the effort for the benefit is no felony conviction.
Our second opinion is that you need to determine whether you will qualify. The eligibility can vary with the county; but, to give you an idea, we have attached King County’s drug court program’s requirements and a copy of the Drug Court Waiver and Agreement Forms you must review and sign to enter this particular program. Keep in mind drug court programs vary a bit depending on which Washington County you’re considering, but this gives a good general idea of what is involved. Keep in mind 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 even will initially qualify. If you do not but still want to enter the program, you will likely need to hire counsel to assist you. We can help you make the appropriate decision regarding Drug Court and if it is something you really want to pursue.
Our third opinion is there must be a reasonable basis and a desire for a client to believe they can honestly complete the program. This means the client, the support network 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 vs. regular court. Remember, entering drug court does not mean you will graduate. Failure does happen, so knowing why you are there and what your goals are helps tremendously.
HOW DRUG COURT FUNCTIONS
In our role as criminal defense attorneys, we know there are an enormous number of questions surrounding Drug Court and eligibility. We know the answers vary with the individual circumstances of each case. The two primary questions that are asked most often are: (1) How long is Drug Court; (2) What is the benefit? We take the time to sit down and discuss your particular circumstances and every concern you might have about the process to help you make a decision that is best fitted to your case and personal needs. That being said, here are some general answers:
How long is drug court? When drug court first started, we remember the program being longer than it is today. However, it can still run 24+ months in some cases. The program can be as short as 10 -12 months in extremely rare circumstances. Presently, 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 of drug court, 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 and freedom is tied to you successfully completing the rehabilitation program that has been ordered by the court. Every Drug Court participant has a different evaluation based on what is going on with their life and what is the root cause of their addiction issue(s). Thus, although they may seem very random, the results and discharge dates are based on numerous factors the court and counselors take into consideration based on the participant who is before the court.
Here is an interesting article on drug court featured in the New York Times back when Judge Saint Claire ran the King County program. He has since been replaced but the program is functionally the same. This article gives one perspective on this program. Our lawyers and our clients have worked with Judge St. Claire and can attest to the success stories as well failures that he has worked with over the years in Drug Court.
What is the Benefit of Drug Court? Most Drug Court Participants start the Drug Court program focused on getting out as quickly as possible and getting their charges dismissed, however, the successful ones begin to realize that there is much more to the program. They learn how to cope with their demons, deal with their emotions and they learn to identify and control their triggers, which are the root causes of their addiction issues. They start to mend the ties that have previously been broken with former friends and family members. They get their lives back and are back at the wheel driving down the highway of life instead of being driven by the ghosts of their addiction. Yes they get their charges dismissed but they understand the real “prize” is re-gaining control of their life by gaining control over their addiction.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases involving illegal drug and controlled substances in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. Not all cases need to, or should, end in conviction. 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 take 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.
Choosing the right counsel for your case is essential. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. Call us at 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.