What Happens When You Go to Drug Court in Utah?

The penalties for drug crimes in Utah can be harsh, especially if the offense is a felony.  Depending on the nature and severity of the offense, a defendant who is convicted could be facing years in prison and many thousands of dollars in fines, plus the long-term difficulties that come from living with a drug-related criminal record.  However, if a defendant successfully finishes drug court, his or her charges will be dropped, and he or she will not have to go to prison.

Which Defendants Qualify for Drug Court in Utah?

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In case you missed our earlier article on drug court eligibility, here’s a quick overview of how you qualify:

  1. You must be charged with a non-violent drug-related felony.
  2. You must have at least one prior drug conviction for which you were sentenced.
  3. You must be a lawful resident of Utah.

You cannot enter drug court if:

  • You were charged with a marijuana crime or alcohol-related crime, such as DUI (Driving Under the Influence).
  • You have ever been convicted of violent crimes (e.g. aggravated assault).
  • You have been convicted of or charged with drug distribution or operating a drug production facility.

Specific rules vary from county to county, and there may be additional requirements or restrictions where you live.  If you are able to meet the eligibility criteria, you may be a good candidate to participate in drug court.

But what can you expect from the program, and what happens after the program has been completed?  In short, how do Utah’s drug courts work?

What Should I Expect from Drug Court? How is it Different from a Traditional Criminal Court?

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Drug court hearings take place in Utah’s district courts, which handle felony cases.  For example, Cache County’s drug court program is based out of Cache County District Court in Logan.  If you live in Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Jordan, South Jordan, West Valley City, Taylorsville, Murray, Riverton, Sandy, Midvale, Holladay, Herriman, Cottonwood Heights, Bluffdale, or Alta, you may be interested in our article on Salt Lake County drug court.  Otherwise, you can find information about drug courts in other counties by visiting the Utah drug court directory.

A person must plead guilty to their charges in order to participate in drug court.  However, the plea will be “held in abeyance” (also called a “plea in abeyance”), which means the plea will be placed on hold while the person works to complete drug court.  Upon completion of the program, the plea will be withdrawn, and the person’s charges will be dismissed.  A plea in abeyance will give you a record, but the record will show that you were not convicted.

There are some similarities between drug court and traditional court in that both conduct hearings for individuals who have been charged with crimes.  However, there are also some important differences.  For example:

  • The purpose of drug court is to promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism by having each participant complete certain requirements in order to have their charges dismissed.  Therefore, when you participate in drug court, you will be expected to comply with various rules and conditions, similar to a person who is on probation.  As a result, drug courts are more involved with the supervision of defendants than traditional courts.  For instance, you will be subject to random urine tests.  You will also be required to undergo treatment, such as counseling or rehabilitation.
  • Drug courts emphasize rehabilitation more aggressively than traditional courts, and have a greater degree of involvement in each defendant’s progress.  While traditional courts sometimes send defendants to treatment programs, they generally conduct minimal follow-up.  By comparison, drug courts focus on actively encouraging participants to develop skills and earn credentials, such as a GED, that will continue to help them throughout life.  Drug courts also encourage participants to connect with local mentors and/or join alumni groups formed of drug court graduates for continuing support.

If at any point you break a rule or fail to comply with a requirement – for example, if you fail a urine test, or don’t show up for a counseling session – a few negative consequences can result.  If the violation is minor, the court may decide to impose stricter rules but allow you to continue participating.  For a major violation, you could be kicked out of the program altogether, which means you will be convicted and incarcerated.

When you are released from prison, your record will reflect a felony drug conviction, which can make it extremely difficult to work in many professions.  It can also make it difficult or impossible to qualify for various loans, such as federal student loans.  For instance, here is a direct quote from the U.S. Department of Education:

“When you complete the FAFSA, you will be asked whether you had a drug conviction for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid.  If the answer is yes, you will be provided a worksheet to help you determine whether your conviction affects your eligibility for federal student aid.”

Were You Charged with Felony Possession of Controlled Substances in Salt Lake County?

If you or your son or daughter was arrested for felony drug possession in Utah, skilled legal representation is vital to protecting your rights and your future.

Utah drug possession lawyer Darwin Overson has more than 16 years of experience representing adults and juveniles charged with felony narcotics offenses, including but not limited to crimes involving heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, ketamine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy), OxyContin, Vicodin, Valium, Xanax, and Percocet.  To set up a free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson & Sheen at (801) 758-2287 today.