Residential Treatment in Under the Influence and Drug Possession Cases: The Issues Involved in Arguing for Treatment versus Prison.
Most of us know people whose lives have been touched by the specter of substance abuse and addiction issues. The question is what do we owe our fellow citizens who are battling these issues? Can we help them or should we just give up on them? And when substance abuse issues underlie criminal conduct, how should our justice system deal with people who are breaking the law, but who are also in need of help?
I regularly come face to face with these issues while representing clients whose addiction issues underlie their alleged criminal conduct. In one client’s case, she was able to participate in a program called Drug Court, where she was sent to participate in a six-month residential treatment program in lieu of a two-year prison sentence. Hopeful that the program would help her turn her life around, I transported her to the program, assuming I would check in on her progress and then meet her back in Drug Court once she had successfully completed the program. To my surprise, just several days into the program, the same client was arrested on a new felony charges involving alleged drug sales and other felonies which are not Drug Court eligible. Normally, this would mean that not only was that client going to be kicked out of court and go to prison, but a lengthy prison sentence on her new charges was also looming. To complicate things further, just as we were prepared to resolve the new cases, another alleged case surfaced. The original charges on which I represented her involved conduct that was all motivated by her addiction issues, conduct ranging from identity theft, to check fraud, to drug possession. Similarly, the alleged conduct that made her not eligible for Drug Court, conduct involving drug sales and not just personal use, was still motivated by her underlying drug abuse problem.
The prosecutor argued that the client was a victimizer who was preying on fellow members of society and who, despite being on probation, was continuing to live a life of crime. However, there was also another side to the argument and to the client. While the idea of punishing the defendant in the short-term may make us as a society feel safe and can satisfy our need to impose a consequence for the defendant’s crimes, what will happen once she is released from prison and has never addressed the issues that underlie her criminal conduct? In that case, my client was a person whose criminal history began relatively recently and whose conduct was motivated by an underlying drug problem. A comparison of the facts of my original cases to the facts of her later felony cases showed that her addiction was dragging her deeper and deeper into the world of drugs and associated crime. Despite the many felony charges that she was facing, she was still a person who had not yet had the opportunity to get the residential treatment she so desperately needed to understand and overcome her drug addiction. My client was not just the defendant who we picture when we hear about these types of charges. She, like every addict, was something more. She was a person with an education as a registered nurse, a person who served in the U.S. Army, and a mother with four children.
Although it is tempting when we hear about charges such as drug sales, identity theft and fraud to want to give up on that person or to brand them as “addicts” and forget that they are also people, we owe them something more. In my experience, people such as my client can make changes in their lives, but they can’t do it on their own. I believe that it is our obligation to try to show them some compassion, to care about what is right for them and for us, and to make sure that they have that real opportunity to get the treatment they need before relegating them to prison. When drug users such as my client emerge from this prison gates untreated, they will have suffered for their crimes against society, but they will also be the same people they were when they went in, people who have not understood the causes underlying their addictions or obtained the tools needed to overcome it. Without the self-awareness and skills needed to move forward, people like my client will be susceptible to simply repeating the same behavior patterns of drug use and associated crimes once they are released. By offering a client at least the opportunity for treatment, we not only help that one client as a person; we also help their families get their loved ones back and help society as a whole to prevent the occurrence of future offenses.
In my client’s case, the court could have sent her to prison for close to seven years. In the end, the court was compassionately willing to allow my client that one chance to try, to try to become a person who her children could be proud of again, who society could count on again, and most of all, who she herself could see in the mirror and feel good about again. She was given the chance to do an intensive one year residential treatment program in lieu of going to prison. I am happy to report that she is now in the program that I believe will be the first step in a new journey for her. At the start of this new year, I reflect back on her and on her case and remember clients facing similar issues in their lives. Although it requires some soul-searching on our part and doesn’t satisfy our need for retribution or a quick fix, I think what we as a society owe her and them is at least that chance to be okay; the rest is up to them.
At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we believe that having a heart matters. We do everything possible to argue for treatment in lieu of punishment. We get our clients that chance to be okay. If you have a question about treatment for yourself or for a loved one facing criminal charges, please feel free to call us. We are always here to help
By Criminal Defense Attorney Jennifer Zide
ph: (805) 477-0327/ 477-8024