Drug Court is an option open to individuals charged with drug offences. Drug Court is a system where aside from criminal sanctions, the individual receives treatment for their substance abuse issue. In order to be eligible for entry into the Drug Court system, the individual must be charged with a non-violent offence related to their drug use or addiction. In general, the individual facing charges must plead guilty if they want to be admitted into Drug Court.
Drug Court operates on three guiding principles:
- Treatment for substance abuse problems is an advantageous manner of reducing crimes related to substance abuse;
- Judaically-supervised treatment is an effective method of ensuring compliance with treatment regimes; and,
- Having a unified approach to treatment and the criminal law system is more efficient than having two separate systems.
Drug Courts are unique in that they incorporate community organizations and healthcare practitioners in court proceedings – a practice that recognizes that crime is not always simply an isolated incident, but a reflection of the life experiences and personal struggles offenders often face. Drug Courts are a relatively new approach, and are only found in only a few jurisdictions in Ontario, including London, Ottawa, and Toronto.
Drug Court in Hamilton
Hamilton’s Drug Court was established in 2014. The Drug Court’s rationale is that substance addiction issues are the root of many crimes. Therefore, treating substance addiction will result in both the offender being less likely to reoffend, and a general reduction in crime. Hamilton’s DTC has no public funding, and relies on donations from private entities.
The Drug Court Experience
*Note: the following specifically relates to drug treatment court in Hamilton. The process can vary depending on the jurisdiction.
You’ve been charged with a drug offence or an offence that stems from your addiction and you’re invested in making a change and working past your addiction.
Your first step is to retain a lawyer. You can retain a lawyer privately or through a Legal Aid Certificate. Experienced defence counsel can answer your questions about your options and can help you decide which option is best for you. Most importantly, they can advocate on your behalf to make sure that your matter has the best possible outcome.
Once you, with your lawyer’s assistance and advice, have decided that drug treatment court is right for you, you will need to fill out an application. The application is approximately five pages, and asks basic questions about your case, as well as specific questions about your addiction, your criminal record, and background. Your lawyer can help you with your application. All answers given must be truthful.
Once your application is completed, your lawyer will contact the Crown or prosecutor assigned to your case. Whether it is a crown or an agent for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada depends on the charges. If you are charged with a drug offence under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, it will be a PPSC prosecutor. If you were charged with a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada, then it will be a Crown.
Your lawyer will discuss the application with the assigned prosecutor during a “resolution meeting”. The prosecutor will decide whether or not to approve your application. If they do not approve it, you can discuss other options with your lawyer.
Once they have approved the application, it will also be evaluated by a representative from Mission Services Hamilton. Mission Services helps facilitate Drug Court so they must be on board with your participation.
From there, the application and your acceptance into Drug Court must be approved by the court itself. In Hamilton, the court is overseen by the Honourable Justice Marjoh Agro. If she approves the application then you begin a long journey through drug treatment court.
Drug treatment court is every week on Wednesday afternoons and you must attend court every week to check in.
While you are participating in drug treatment court, you are subject to conditions, much like bail conditions. You must keep the peace and there is typically a curfew, among other conditions.
You will complete counselling and have regularly scheduled appointments you must attend. You also must submit bodily samples for drug testing. There will be different programs available to you. These can help with finding work, housing, etc.
You will be given a book by the court that helps you keep track of all of your appointments. It also will record your progress, your successes and failures.
Each Wednesday afternoon, you will attend court and Justice Agro will review this book and your progress. If you have been abiding by all the conditions, the Justice may lead the court in a round of applause.
If you have missed appointments, missed court, or haven’t been complying with your conditions, you may get a sanction from the court. This can be in the form of community service, time spent in custody, and it will likely add to the amount of time you must attend Drug Court.
You slip up and you test positive for drugs. Drug Court will not sanction you for this because it recognizes that relapse is a part of recovery. But this will add time onto your participation in Drug Court. You must have tested drug-free for six months before you can graduate from Drug Court.
Now there are two paths: if you are not able to comply with your conditions, you commit other offences, or you receive too many sanctions, you may be kicked out of Drug Court. Then you will face a regular sentence, which can include incarceration.
If you manage to stay clean for at least six months, attend counselling, comply with your conditions, and attend Drug Court every week, you can graduate from Drug Court. Successful completion of Drug Court does not eliminate the offence from your record. But it stands in place of a traditional sentence and should have a big impact on your road to recovery.
As you can see, Drug Court is by no means a “get out of jail free card”. It is a serious commitment that takes a long time (usually a year or longer) and takes a lot of dedication. It is not an easy option and it is certainly not an option for everyone. But if you are serious about turning your life around, it may be the right path for you.
The lawyers at Smordin Law have years of experience advocating for clients charged with drug offences and those suffering from addiction. They can explain all of your options and will be candid about the best option for you. If you have been charged with a drug offence or with an offence that stems from your addiction, contact Smordin Law for a free consultation.