Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Alternative Disposition for Drug Addicts

Our prosecutor contributors have been busy lately, but one of them took a break to offer an intriguing outlook on cases involving bonafide drug addicts.  Here you go.

How often do you handle felony cases where drugs are clearly the root of the crime committed? I’m not just referencing the clear ones like possession or possession with intent to deliver. I’m also talking about the theft, burglary, or credit card abuse cases where you have a client who is stealing to feed their drug addictions. These are the clients who probably have a track record a mile long or have picked up 3 or 4 cases within just a few months.

These folks may come across as the ones who just want to do their time and get back to their addiction. They’ve maybe had defense attorneys before you who have gotten them the best jail or pen time available. They know the game and expect the same from you. Or maybe not?

Maybe you have somebody who has reached that breaking point and wants out of the drug world. Whatever the case, when you’re handling drug-related cases with an addict for a client consider this. They don’t have to go to the pen or state jail or even spend a couple of months in the county. Instead, the state has created programs to address the needs of these types of folks.

Rehab. That’s what it is. Plain and simple. Most jurisdictions have county-ran programs where offenders can go to fight their addictions. Some are lock-down programs while others allow participants to maintain full time jobs during the day. (Check with your local probation office on what types of program your jurisdiction offers) TDCJ offers their Substance Abuse Felony Punishment (SAFP) program which is a bonafide lock-down facility. There are programs offered through your local MHMR that usually allow for outpatient treatment. And never forget about private facilities for those clients who can afford it.

Whatever type of program is needed for your specific client, your role as counselor may necessitate this conversation with her. For example, she has been addicted to crack-cocaine for the past three years. She’s been to the state jail and pen and is currently actively incarcerated for her newest state jail theft case. Her first comment to you is? That’s right. Get me the shortest sentence so I can get out of here. Or maybe she possesses the more “I don’t give two rips” attitude. What if you sit her down and explain her options. Explain the availability of these programs to help address her problem. She may very well be responsive. You may need to be the one who encourages that initial step in the direction of recovery.

As for the prosecutor, every case is different. But in many situations, when you have a client who is willing to address his drug problem and agree to a rehabilitative program, the prosecutor is going to have a hard time saying no. It’s not very often the prosecution is approached with rehab. More often than not, it’s the prosecutor who sees the need and has to make the proposal. The defense attorney is in a much better place to make that suggestion, especially when considering how your client will receive it. “The prosecutor is saying you have to do this.” – probably won’t work. “I, as your attorney, think this is something you really need to consider.” – is much more appealing. Just something to think about next time you deal with a client who is an addict.