About one sixth of the roughly two million people in local, state and federal jails and prisons across America are behind bars for drug crimes, the majority of them possession offenses. As criminal defense lawyers, we understand that the vast majority of people who land in jail on drug charges are not true criminals but people struggling with addiction. Fortunately, if you find yourself charged with a drug offense, there may be a way to avoid jail.
Drugs courts are diversionary programs intended to keep people charged with simple drug possession out of crowded prison systems and on the path to kicking their habits. Florida, in fact, started the nation’s first drug court back in 1989.
In Florida, eligible defendants may enter drug court before or after trial. In the pretrial scenario, the defendant is diverted into a drug court program prior to entering a plea. Florida Statute 948.08 provides that a defendant is eligible for admission into pretrial diversion drug court if he/she:
- Has a substance abuse problem and is open to treatment
- Is charged with a nonviolent felony
- Has never been charged with a violent crime, such as murder or sexual battery, or any other act of violence
- Has two or fewer felony convictions, provided that those convictions are for nonviolent felonies
Those who successfully complete the program are not prosecuted.
Post-adjudicatory drug court (PADC) operates differently. A defendant must first enter a guilty plea, then request admission to drug court. If the judge approves, any sentence is suspended pending completion of the program. Under Florida Statute 397.334, entry into PADC is based on the sentencing court’s assessment of:
- The defendant’s criminal history
- The defendant’s substance abuse screening results
- The defendant’s openness to the program’s services
- Total sentence points
- The recommendation of the state attorney
In either program, a failed drug test during the drug court period will lead to more intensive requirements, like reporting to court more often or submitting to more tests. Rarely does one positive test cause someone to be kicked out of the program. But more than one failed test can force the person back into criminal court.
Trying to get into drug court may not always be the best choice. You should make the decision only after discussing all your options thoroughly with your lawyer. For example, if you want PADC, that means you have to plead guilty, which means you’re giving up the right to defend yourself. Depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case and your need for a treatment program, you may be better off pleading not guilty and seeking acquittal or a plea bargain that avoids jail time.
Largey Law Firm has helped numerous people enter drug court. Our criminal defense attorneys know the system and can explain everything to you in detail. To learn more, contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Our Central Florida firm has offices in Inverness, Clermont and Tavares.