Many counties throughout the state of Pennsylvania offer certain offenders the opportunity to participate in drug court programs as an alternative to going to jail or prison. As a condition of admittance, participants must comply with strict program rules and regulations under the supervision of a probation officer. In this blog post, our Philadelphia drug defense lawyers from The Law Offices of Lloyd Long will explain some of the Pennsylvania drug court program eligibility requirements, terms and conditions of participation, and potential penalties for breaking the rules.
How Eligibility for Drug Court in Pennsylvania is Determined
Drug court is a unique program designed for non-violent drug offenders. While many different defendants might be eligible, the program is intended to help those struggling with heavy addiction problems. The program tends to focus more on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment. First-time offenders or offenders who do not have addiction problems might not be the best fit for the program.
It’s important to emphasize that each Pennsylvania county that offers a drug court program has its own set of application procedures, participation rules, violation penalties, and so forth. In Eastern Pennsylvania alone, drug court programs are available in Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and Lancaster County, to name just a few geographic locations. This entry will focus on some of the common features many of these programs share. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the basic eligibility requirements.
The exact eligibility criteria for drug court might vary from county to county. If you are interested in learning more about drug court in your specific county, please reach out to our Philadelphia drug possession defense lawyer for more information. To give you a good understanding of drug court eligibility criteria generally, we’ve provided information about Philadelphia’s drug court below.
Eligibility Criteria for Philadelphia’s Drug Court Program
To get into the drug court program in Philadelphia, believe it or not, the underlying offense does not have to explicitly be a drug crime. Crimes such as simple possession or possession with intent to distribute will suffice. However, if your offenses are drug-related, and you were charged as an adult, minor, or college student, our drug possession lawyer for Temple students can assist you.
While your underlying crime does not need to be directly related to drugs, it does have to be non-violent. Defendants charged with violent crimes, like aggravated assault or something similar, will not be permitted to take part of the drug court program. In addition, only defendants with no more than two prior non-violent, adult convictions will be considered for drug court. Also, you may have no more than two juvenile adjudications, including admissions and consent decrees. Finally, if you have already been through the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program (ARD) or you have plead no contest to prior criminal charges, you might not be eligible.
Certain criminal charges, even if they are non-violent, may still be ineligible. Defendants charged with weapons-related offenses or drug offenses that require sentences based on the weight of the drugs are not eligible. Cases involving violations in school zones might not be eligible and are handled on a case-by-case basis.
If you are charged with a drug-related offense or another non-violent crime, contact our Philadelphia drug defense lawyer. You could be eligible for the drug court program in your county.
How Does Drug Court Work in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, a defendant typically enters drug court by first pleading guilty to their underlying charges. This might seem confusing at first. After all, your goal is to avoid a conviction and time behind bars. However, your guilty plea will be held in abeyance, which means it will be set aside and will not have any effect yet. As long as you keep up with the requirement of the program and successfully complete it, your guilty plea will be dismissed. If you fail to complete the program, your guilty plea will become effective, and you will face ordinary sentencing.
Even if you are initially rejected from the program, you may be able to file a request for reconsideration provided you do not miss the deadline for your county. Your attorney can help you file the request and handle other legal documentation so that you do not make any critical errors or omissions.
Before applying, bear in mind that these programs are long-term. For example, the Bucks County drug court program has a minimum duration requirement of at least one year, divided into four “phases” lasting at least three months each. Before graduating from one phase to the next, you must complete all necessary requirements. Some for the requirements include getting a high school diploma or GED, maintaining a full-time job, obtaining housing, completing treatments for drugs or alcohol, and remaining drug, alcohol, and crime free. Different counties may have more specific requirements and the phases of their drug court programs may be structured differently. Contact our Philadelphia drug trafficking defense lawyer for more information.
Sanctions for Violations of Drug Court Rules in Pennsylvania
Sanctions are imposed whenever a drug court participant breaks a rule or fails to complete one of their requirements. Sanctions can range from mild to severe and will reflect the gravity of the violation. A more significant violation will result in a more significant sanction.
Violations that are often sanctioned include, but are not limited to, failing drug tests, missing required appointments, be arrested or charged with new crimes, and overall lack of participation. Sanctions include writing essays, losing incentives or privileges, fines, stricter curfews, and ejection from the program. You could also be demoted to a lower phase of the program, which means it will take you even longer to successfully complete the program.
Sanctions are geared more toward problems faced by serious drug addicts. Things like staying clean and completing education or treatment courses are most difficult for people who are heavily addicted to drugs. Someone without these problems would likely breeze through drug court and they would likely receive very little benefit in the end.
What Happens If I Successfully Finish Drug Court in Pennsylvania?
The benefits of completing drug court are monumental for struggling addicts. Not only do they emerge from the program with some sobriety under their belt, but they are not burdened by a criminal record. Recovering from addiction is hard enough without the added trouble of a criminal record. A recovering addict, after completing drug court, might find it easier to make major life improvements, like getting a job, because they do not have a criminal record holding them back.
Completing the drug court program will provide a number of benefits. First, upon successful completion of the program, the guilty plea which you entered at the start of the program is dismissed. Your charges will also be dismissed, often with prejudice. A dismissal with prejudice means that your charges are dismissed permanently. The prosecution cannot attempt to re-charge you or otherwise penalize you for your crimes. At this point, your case is officially closed and you have successfully avoided a trial and prison time.
On top of all that, if you remain drug and alcohol-free, and you stay out of legal trouble for the next year, you can have your case expunged. An expungement is when any record of your case and your charges are wiped from your record. This is especially helpful when you are subjected to a background check for things like new jobs or applying for certain public benefits.
How Does Drug Court Help Offenders in Pennsylvania?
Drug court allows successful participants to avoid incarceration. Needless to say, this is a highly preferable option for most people. Yet, in exchange for being granted this invaluable opportunity, program participants must obey a comprehensive list of rules and regulations which are imposed by the courts and monitored closely by a network of probation officers, police officers, and the providers of medical treatment.
If a participant pays all fines and restitution and completes drug court successfully, they may have the charges reduced and be granted the opportunity to be placed on administrative (i.e. non-supervisory) probation, thereby avoiding jail or prison. This can help offenders avoid the penalties for first-time drug possession in Pennsylvania or a repeat drug offense.
This is particularly helpful for serious addicts in the program. While in prison, an addict might not have access to drugs, but they would not receive the necessary counseling and treatment to overcome their addictions. By circumventing the prison system, drug court participants have a better shot at rehabilitation.
On the other hand, however, breaking the program’s rules can result in sanctions or even outright ejection. Sanctions are typically reserved for minor violations, such as being slightly late for curfew or missing one treatment session, while very serious deviations from the rules, such as being arrested for a violent felony offense, can result in termination of participation. If you are ejected from the program, you face being sent to prison to serve the remainder of your sentence.
Contact Our Philadelphia Drug Defense Lawyers Today for Help
If you’ve been charged with drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, or other drug crimes in Philadelphia, you face harsh criminal penalties. Are college students eligible? Our drug possession lawyer for UPenn students and college students can help you navigate this process. The experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lloyd Long can help protect your legal rights, fight to have your charges reduced or dismissed, and guide you through the court system. To set up a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long right away at (215) 302-0171.