Are You Eligible for Utah’s Drug Court Program?

The Utah state judiciary reports that arrests for drug crimes have skyrocketed in recent years.  In an effort to curb recidivism, rehabilitate offenders with substance addictions, and make space for other types of cases to be heard in traditional criminal courts, Utah utilizes an alternative drug court system specifically designed to address — you guessed it — drug charges.  The drug court system is very different from the traditional court system, because it offers participants the rare opportunity to have their charges dismissed in exchange for successful program completion.  Are you qualified to participate?  Our criminal defense lawyers break the rules down for you.

Handcuffs, Medicine Bottle and Pills Under Spot Light Abstract.

What’s the Difference Between Drug Court and Traditional Court?

Imagine you’ve been convicted of felony meth possession in a traditional criminal court.  Your prison sentence could last for years, and once you’re finally released, you’ll have to contend with the challenges of having a felony conviction on your record for years to come.  In addition to facing a difficult social stigma, you may also find yourself struggling to apply for jobs, obtain special licenses, and even be approved for loans.  If you could somehow avoid all of those issues, wouldn’t you be interested?  If so, you’re in luck — Utah’s drug courts may offer a solution.

The drug court system’s ultimate goal is to help offenders access the treatment and social services they need to beat the cycle of addiction and poverty, so they can avoid falling into a pattern of repeated arrests.  Rather than taking a punitive approach, the drug courts place an emphasis on long-term recovery by tackling the issues which contribute to recidivism, such as lack of education, poor self-esteem, and abusive family relationships.

In contrast to the traditional process, a guilty plea which is entered in drug court (referred to as a plea of abeyance) will be placed on hold while the defendant participates in the drug court system. Once the defendant graduates from the program, the plea is withdrawn, and the original charges are dismissed.  In other words, no conviction is entered against you, and you don’t have to go to prison.

Eligibility Requirements for Utah Drug Court Programs

While drug court presents a tremendous opportunity to criminal defendants, there is one catch: not everyone is eligible to participate.  If you’re able to meet the following eligibility criteria, you may be a good candidate:

  • You must be a non-violent offender who has been charged with a drug crime.
  • You must be a legal resident of the United States.
  • You must have at least one drug conviction which resulted in a sentence.

However, those aren’t the only requirements: there are also criteria which will automatically exclude you from participating.  For example:

  • Is your drug of choice alcohol or marijuana?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a violent crime, such as robbery or aggravated assault?
  • Are there any charges currently pending against you for distributing a controlled substance, or for operating a factory or lab which produces illegal drugs?

If you answered yes to any of those three questions, unfortunately you will not be considered for enrollment.

Judge sitting at table during court hearings on room background

What Are the Rules for Drug Court Participants?

You should be aware that the drug court program does not run its course in a matter of days, weeks, or even months.  Be advised that this is a long-term program with a minimum duration of one year.  The program’s 52-week timeline is broken down into seven broad components:

  • Detox, which is overseen by trained medical professionals to help keep the process as safe and comfortable as possible.
  • Inpatient treatment followed by outpatient treatment.
  • Attending substance abuse support groups.
  • Attending drug education courses.
  • Periodic urine testing.
  • Attending drug court.
  • Performing community service as assigned.

Some participants may not be able to comply with this demanding program from start to finish, and as the state judiciary’s website cautions, offenders who “lack the ability to manage the structure of the program such as those with disruptive behavior problems” will be ejected or disqualified from enrollment.  You will also be removed from the system if you miss three of your scheduled court appearances.  Know that if you are expelled from the program, you will have to face the same sentencing and conviction issues you were originally trying to avoid.

Fortunately, Utah’s drug courts have been statistically proven to yield positive results: drug court graduates have a recidivism rate of only 7%, compared with 45% for defendants who are processed through the traditional court system.  Meanwhile, urinalysis yields a negative result in an outstanding 90% of drug court participants — and for parents who struggle with addiction issues, drug court can be the difference between losing their child to protective services, and being allowed to stay united with their families.

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Utah, or if you have any questions about how the drug court system works and how to participate, Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson can help.  To set up a free and confidential consultation, call (801) 758-2287 today.