An Inside Look at Drug Court

By Myles B. Schlam, J.D., CAP / CCJAP

Drug Court

As a Clinical Treatment Consultant and Criminal Justice Addictions Professional, my job is to assess clients in the Criminal Justice system and to determine the best treatment option for that individual. A good deal of my time is spent in the Circuit Drug Court.

A defendant is diverted into the Circuit Drug Court when they have been charged with a Felony possession of Narcotics or over 20 grams of Marijuana. When a defendant is diverted into Drug Court, there are certain procedures and protocols. Here is a description of what typically occurs when a Defendant enters Drug Court in Broward, Dade or Palm Beach County, although there are slight diffences in each county’s drug court program.

When the Defendant first appears in Drug Court the Judge will ask if there are any legal issues. The State Attorney then has the opportunity to object to the Defendant being admitted to Drug Court if they are a habitual offender or if the Defendant is charged with Trafficking or delivery or “Attempted” of either one.

If there are no objections and the Defendant is accepted into Drug Court, they will be assigned to a PTI (Pre-Trial Intervention) Officer to whom he or she must report to once a month. They will be subject to urine drops at these visits and PTI will report at each status hearing whether Defendant has attended and the results of the urinalysis.

Most defendants will be placed into the County Sheriff’s office treatment program. There are three phases to the program and the length of the program is designed to be one year, although defendants often are set back due to relapses or other forms of non-compliance, including lack of payment of fees for treatment and court-costs.

When a Drug Court client finally graduates, the Court will dismiss the charges against them. This “deferred prosecution” will result in a dismissal of the case upon successful completion of twelve months of treatment. At that point, the client may be eligible for either a sealing or expungement of their criminal record, depending on their prior arrest history and other factors.

On Phase I, the Defendant must attend treatment 3 days per week for an hour each night. On Phase II, they must attend only 2 days per week and on Phase III only once a week. Phase I is generally for the first month of the program, although as stated, a client can be held on a phase longer as a result of relapses, non-compliance, or Treatment recommendations or Judicial discretion.* A higher level of care may be recommended such as a 28-day residential program, a 30-day in- custody program, a 90-day in-custody program or some combination of residential and out-patient treatment.

The ultimate decision will be made by the Judge. The Judge may order in addition that the Client attend a certain number of AA/NA meetings per week and bring sign-in sheets to Court as proof of attendance. That is usually something that is suggested in any event. The Defendant usually must report to the Court at a Status Hearing once a month, but the Judge can order shorter or lengthier resets at their discretion.

If a Defendant wishes they may “opt-out” of Drug Court and fight their case on Legal grounds in another Felony Division. If they are found Guilty in another Division, they may be adjudicated and sentenced to jail time or felony probation. A Defendant may not usually opt out once they have signed the Deferred Prosecution Agreement or “DPA”. They will not be eligible for Sealing or Expungement of record, unless the adjudication is withheld, they are acquitted of the charges or the case is Nolle Prossed or dismissed.

What most Defendants do not know, and are not usually told, is that they have alternatives to the county treatment program. There are many excellent private as well as not-for-profit treatment facilities which will provide treatment that will meet all the Drug Court requirements. ASI is one such court-approved treatment provider. Clients will usually receive more individualized care in the private treatment facilities as they are less crowded and have more resources.

Many Drug Court Clients are dually-diagnosed. The County-run facilities are not usually equipped to address these issues due to low funding and budget issues. That is not to say that some county facilities do an excellent job, considering the limited resources they have and tremendous case-loads. However, it is literally impossible for them to give the same level of care that can be provided in a more intimate, private setting.

The private treatment programs are usually more accommodating towards the clients. The public programs are over-booked and under- funded. There are waiting lists which can exceed 6 weeks just to be admitted into certain County programs. In the mean time, the Judge may order that the client wait in-custody until a bed becomes available. Furthermore, some clients are under the impression that the public programs are free. While fees are usually set on a “sliding scale” basis, they will accumulate and may be several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars when all is said and done. The Defendant’s case will not usually be dismissed until all fees and court costs are paid. Most of the private treatment facilities accept major health insurance providers as payment. Others even accept Medicare, Medicaid, or sliding

When a client elects to attend a private treatment program in lieu of State or County-funded Treatment, the Judge will usually order the client to that facility for a certain length of time. The program must be approved by the Court. It is recommended that any drug court clients or prospective drug court clients wishing to explore the option of private treatment in lieu of the court default program contact ASI for an Assessment. Assessments are performed by appointment only.

Any questions or comments regarding this article can be addressed to:

Myles B. Schlam, J.D., CAP / CCJAP

Advocare Solutions, Inc.- Executive Director

(954) 804-6888 • WWW.DRUGCOURTPRO.COM