Alternative Sentencing for Drug Charges

For clients facing drug charges, there are a number of ways to avoid police custody. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we are with you every step of the way. We use our extensive legal knowledge regarding possession of a controlled substance to defend the very core of the charge. There are important details that, unless proven, can prevent such a charge from being verified:

1) the finding that the drugs are indeed really "yours",
2) that you know the drugs are present where they are found, and
3) that you have the right and the ability to exercise dominion and control over that substance.

These are prime areas for the defense to make an argument that, based on the facts of your case, legal "possession" cannot be proven.

If you do choose to resolve your case, it is important to note that Clients who are charged with a first-time drug offense may be eligible for the Diversion program. “Diversion” allows you the opportunity to avoid a conviction by participating in a short-term out-patient drug counseling program. Your case is essentially put “on hold” and a review date is scheduled for two years down the road. If you successfully complete the program and avoid further offenses during this two-year period, your case will be dismissed.

For clients who are not eligible for Diversion, you may still benefit from treatment in lieu of custody time by exploring other options. For example, Prop 36 involves out-patient treatment, or Drug Court, through which you could participate in residential treatment instead of spending any time in jail or prison. Even for clients whose cases have gone beyond the level of Drug Court and who are now facing substantial periods in prison, we can make an argument on your behalf that residential treatment - not prison - is the just result.

For clients who have previously suffered a drug-related conviction, we can still assist with early termination of probation and expungement to clear your record.

If your past conviction was a felony possession for personal use, or other felony drug charge that does not involve alleged sales, you should be aware that your case is now eligible for re-sentencing under Prop 47. This will be a great benefit to you because it means your felony may be reduced to a misdemeanor, which makes a big difference on your record. This type of re-sentencing will open up more opportunities to you going forward. By having your felony drug offense re-sentenced as a misdemeanor, you will avoid the costly monthly fee associated with formal probation required for felonies. Further, if for any reason you "fall out" of a treatment alternative and are facing custody, you will be in a much more advantageous position at that point; any custody time associated with a misdemeanor level drug offense will be far less than that for a felony drug offense.

Even in cases where clients are facing a charge of Felony Possession for Sales (not for personal use), which would normally disqualify you from participating in a treatment alternative to custody, we can still argue for a treatment alternative to custody in two ways: either by getting your case reduced to a misdemeanor possession for personal use or arguing that you are eligible either for Drug Court and another means of alternative sentencing.

GETTING YOUR FELONY SALES CASE REDUCED TO A MISDEMEANOR

First, in cases of alleged sales, the government must prove that the controlled substance was possessed not just for your personal use, but for the purpose of selling to others. In the police report, officers gather information which they believe will help the D.A. make the case against you. This circumstantial evidence is known as "indicia of sales". It may include text messages, pay-owe sheets, packaging, allegations of a large quantity of drugs involved, evidence of large amounts of cash in your possession at the time, and other surrounding circumstances that the officers believe suggest to them that the purpose of such possession was for sale. The District Attorney's office then makes a filing decision as to which offense to charge in your case, based on the information gathered by law enforcement officers and documented in their police report.

It is possible that the officers truly believes that the drugs were intended for sale, when in fact any drugs you possessed were actually for personal use. Through negotiating with the prosecution or taking your case to preliminary hearing, your defense may be able to show that such a belief is incorrect and the prosecution may agree that it really was a personal-use scenario and you should have the opportunity to participate in treatment. If your case goes to the level of trial, the burden would be on the prosecution to prove your intention beyond a reasonable doubt that you possessed drugs not for your own use, but for the purpose of sale.

YOUR ELIGIBILITY FOR DRUG COURT OR OTHER TREATMENT ALTERNATIVE

Even when there is strong evidence that the controlled substance was possessed for purpose of sale, you may still be eligible for drug court or another treatment alternative to custody. Often, even if people are engaged in drug sales, it is their own drug use and addiction that is motivating their conduct. Sadly, drugs become their whole lives and drug sales become a way to financially support their own addiction.

Recognizing this truth and the fact that residential treatment, not custody, is the only way to truly help a client in that position (and, secondarily, to help their families, friends, and even our larger society as a whole), we argue that our clients, caught somewhere between being a "user" and a "seller", should be eligible for that treatment alternative.

HAVE AN EXPERIENCED ATTORNEY DEFEND YOUR DRUG CHARGES

I have extensive experience as a criminal defense attorney defending clients facing drug charges - from Felony Possession and Transportation to Possession for Sales and from Cultivation of Marijuana to misdemeanor Under the Influence and other drug-related offenses. I have been involved in trials, as well as other stages in their cases.

In one trial in which my client was charged with Felony Possession and Transportation, where he was the driver of the car, the only person in the car, and the drugs were found in the area of the driver's side floorboard, I achieved a "hung jury" heavily weighted in favor of the defense (9-3) so that the D.A. ended up dismissing the case.

In other cases, after arguing to get clients the treatment alternative they so deserve, I have been touched to see clients truly turn their lives around with the support they needed. It is a great reward to see a transformation in individual clients, in their happiness and future, and in how they feel about themselves in the end. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we stand by you every step of the way in court and beyond, through residential treatment and support in “life after.” Call us today to discuss all your options, both in your case, and for a brighter future. We are here to help!

RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT FOR LOVED ONES OVERCOMING ADDICTION

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 new felony charges involving alleged drug sales and other felonies that were not Drug Court eligible. Normally, this would mean that not only would that client be kicked out of court and go to prison, but she was facing a lengthy prison sentence on her new charges. To complicate things further, just as we were prepared to resolve the new cases, another alleged case surfaced. The original charges involved conduct that was driven by her addiction issues (identity theft, check fraud, and drug possession). Similarly, the alleged conduct that made her not eligible for Drug Court involved drug sales and not just personal use, which were 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 an educated person with a career, a person who served in our Armed Forces, and a mother with four children.

When we hear about charges such as drug sales, identity theft and fraud, it is tempting 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 like this 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 a real opportunity to get the treatment they need before relegating them to prison.

When drug users such as my client emerge from the 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 the opportunity for treatment, we not only help that one client as an individual, but we also help their families get their loved one back, and we 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 last chance 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 has, at this point, successfully completed the program, remained free of the criminal justice system, restored her relationships and turned her life around. I reflect back to her case as a success story for her as an individual and for all of us who were willing to believe in her. 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 other offenders whose criminal conduct is rooted in addiction, at least the chance to be okay; the rest is up to them.

At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we do everything possible to argue for treatment for our clients 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.

It starts with belief. While belief is not all you need, I do believe that nothing good was ever accomplished without it. You or your loved one can do this, but you can't do it alone. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we bring our skills, experience and expertise to the battle to get you the chance you deserve and the support you need to make a positive change. You deserve this chance to look forward with hope to your ever-unfolding personal journey. Sometimes all it takes is that one crucial moment of someone saying "I am with you" to turn things around. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we are with you. It is this belief, in you right now and in your potential, that motivates us to help you fight.

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