Thankfully, the criminal justice system recognizes that crimes related to drugs and alcohol are oftentimes rooted in the disease of addiction and offers a respite in a program called Drug Court. If successfully completed, Drug Court helps offenders avoid jail time and, in some cases, can keep a felony conviction off their record.
Eligibility for post-adjudicatory drug courts is set out in Florida Statute § 948.08 and varies widely, as these drug courts operate at the county and circuit level throughout Florida. We owe the genesis of our Drug Court Program to the Honorable John T. Parnham, a retired Escambia County Circuit Judge, who helped begin and set up Pensacola’s drug court program based on other models in use around the country.
This article is designed only to give you a basic outline of how drug court is used in Northwest Florida and Escambia County or Pensacola. Please see the statute for a more complete explanation of how “drug court program” actually works or give our office a call and we’ll be happy to assist you.
Most often, it is the State Attorney’s Office that decides which cases are referred to Drug Court. To be eligible for Drug Court, an offender must present evidence of having an actual addiction to drugs or alcohol. While drug possession crimes – including felonies – are sometimes eligible for Drug Court, drug distribution cases generally are not. Sometimes, even if the original charge is not drug related, offenders may be eligible for Drug Court if they violate probation by using drugs. Even offenders with a criminal history may be referred to Drug Court. In fact many of the people admitted to drug court have violated their probation and are looking at substantial prison or jail time.
At the very beginning of the Drug Court process, offenders most often enter into a plea agreement that details how much time they will spend in jail or prison if they do not successfully complete the program. Notably, this term is usually more substantial than they might have faced had they dealt with the offense without going into Drug Court. This imposes leverage on the recovering addict in the program to do his or her best at completing the program successfully.
Drug Court is an arduous program. It requires numerous very early-morning visits to court. Participants are subject to frequent random drug tests. They must participate in many hours of group counseling that resembles classroom work. They must attend 12 Step recovery program meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. When they appear in Court, the counselors that are present report to the Court how the person is doing. Sometimes people are commended; sometimes they are punished for not following or complying with the program.
In most cases Drug Court usually lasts one year but can be extended if the Court determines further treatment is necessary.
Since this program deals with addiction – a cunning, baffling and powerful disease – Drug Court recognizes that even who people are earnestly trying to recover sometimes relapse. If a Dug Court participant tests positive for drugs, they are not automatically rejected from the program. Instead, they may be required to spend a weekend, a week or even longer in jail but after serving their “punishment” they may be released and allowed to return to the program.
The court’s tolerance, however, has its limits. Continued drug use will result in the offender being ejected from Drug Court and facing that original sentence that they agreed to in their plea agreement they entered into when they began the program. (As I mentioned, sometimes a “tougher” sentence that if they had just resolved the case without drug court; however, then the person doesn’t have an excellent opportunity to get off drugs).
For this reason, I recommend Drug Court to my clients cautiously and sparingly. An offender’s desire to avoid jail time may not be motivation enough to keep him or her from using drugs if they are not truly ready to stop. In short, a person’s desire to stay out of jail or be released from jail is powerful; however, it may not be powerful enough to motivate them to successfully complete the rigors of the program.
I had one case where a woman faced several old warrants related to drug issues. She successfully completed Drug Court and stayed clean. Had she not, she would have spent more than two years in state prison.
So, if you are facing drug-related charges in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa or Walton counties, and believe you believe you are ready to live a different life without drugs and are really ready to stop using, being referred to Drug Court might be a good option for you. Give us a call at The Jenkins Law Firm and I’ll be happy to review your case and help you the best I know how.
NOTE: The information we provide in this blog is not legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. This blog in large part is designed to help the public understand the criminal justice system and certain criminal offenses a little better. It is not a substitute for legal advice and must not be taken as such.