Category Archives: Drug Court

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

Image result for dui and politics

The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

New DUI Court Helps Native Americans

An Albuquerque, New Mexico court is taking bold and progressive steps in stopping Native Americans from committing DUI.

The newly established Urban Native American Drug Court uses nine months of treatment and supervision instead of incarceration to deter alcoholism. In order to qualify, each defendant must be Native American and have been convicted of more than two DWIs.

“The idea is to try to incorporate some of the traditional beliefs into healing and wellness,” Judge Maria Dominguez said.

Officials said the biggest challenge is a fear of losing their spirituality. David Lente, a Native American substance abuse counselor in Albuquerque, provides the therapeutic component of the program by integrating activities cultural activities, like talking circles and community service projects. The hope is to reconnect Native American defendants with the positive aspects of their culture.

Court officials said drug court, as a whole, is a much more effective tool than jail time. They said only 6 percent of those who participate end up getting arrested again for drunken driving.

My opinion? This program is an excellent progressive step forward. Typically, alcohol abuse is symptomatic of something much worse taking place within the abuser. They may be suffering with physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health issues and using alcohol to self-medicate. Kudos to Judge Dominguez in the continued success of this program.

State v. Drum: Good Decision Regarding Stipulated Evidence At Drug Court Trials

Interesting opinion.  An excellent teacher for judges, prosecutors and defense counsel alike.  In short, the WA Supremes held a trial court may find a defendant NOT GUILTY if it determines that the stipulated evidence does not establish all of the elements of a crime beyond all reasonable doubt.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/?fa=opinions.disp&filename=814988MAJ

Patrick Drum entered into a contract to participate in drug court, which provided for the eventual dismissal of a Residential Burglary charge if  Drum  successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program.  The contract required Drum to stipulate that the facts set forth in the investigation reports, witness statements, and laboratory tests were true and sufficient to support a finding of guilt.  After waiting in custody for 42 days for a bed to open up at a treatment facility, Drum requested to leave the drug court program.  He had a bench trial.  The judge found him guilty based on the evidence that was stipulated when Mr. Drum entered the contract.

Here, the WA Supremes reasoned that by entering a drug court contract, a defendant is NOT giving up his right to an independent finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  A trial court still has the authority to find the defendant not guilty if it determines that the stipulated evidence does not establish all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  Finally, if a trial court independently reviews the evidence and makes findings, a stipulated drug court agreement is NOT the equivalent of a guilty plea.

My opinion?  EXCELLENT DECISION.

For those who don’t know, Drug Courts are programs that divert nonviolent, drug-related offenders into intensive treatment programs with the  goal of encouraging offenders  into a productive, drug-free lifestyle.  In general, offenders participate in required drug treatment and counseling, find work, meet with corrections officers, attend regular visits with a judge, and meet any other conditions set by the court.  Personal involvement by the drug court judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and treatment providers is cited as the key to the success of drug courts.

Drug Court is a privilege.  It’s difficult to get into.  A defendant must be evaluated and found a good candidate by the evaluator, prosecutor and judge.  To gain entry, defendant must also stipulate – essentially, agree – to the truth of the evidence alleged against them in the police reports.  Worst-case scenario; if defendants either quit or are kicked out of Drug Court, then they have already waived their right to a jury trial, waived their right to challenge the evidence through direct/cross examination of witnesses, and essentially waived their presumption of innocence.  Ouch.

I like this opinion.  It gives judges broad discretion to review the truth and veracity of the “stipulated evidence.”  In other words, judges may consider whether the State can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Best-case scenario for a defendant, it appears they have a chance to get a case acquitted by a judge upon leaving Drug Court.

Practically speaking, the likelihood of an acquittal is slim.  Drug Courts are highly political venues.   Indeed, look at how the WA Supreme Justices voted, it was a SLIM 5-4 majority.

But that’s another story . . .

Amid Recession Meth Menace Evolves

Article describes how the meth problem has grown in the face of dwindling State/County budgets.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34227273/ns/us_news-the_elkhart_project

My opinion?  It makes sense.  My last blog discussed how heroin use increased in Whatcom County.  Similarly, I would expect meth use to increase as well.  It’s a sad state of affairs.  We’ve all felt the crunch of this economy: people lose their jobs, financial situations seem hopeless, we need to feel better, and, for some, drugs provide the outlet.

Know this: meth is a particularly nasty drug bringing particularly nasty consequences.  Under Washington’s Sentencing Reform Act (SRA), a person with no criminal history is exposed to 12-20 months PRISON for delivering methamphetamine.  RCW 69.50.401(2)(b).  Meth charges are also classified as Class B felonies, which are serious felonies under the SRA.  Finally, delivery charges automatically prohibit a defendant from entering Drug Court.

Again, nasty.  My advice?  Stay away.  Or hire good counsel.

Heroin Use On the Rise in Whatcom County

Interesting article discusses the what, how, and why behind the epidemic . . .

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/255/story/1137929.html

The evidence?  Increased demand for outpatient rehab has more than doubled, needle exchanges increased 36 percent for spring/summer compared to the same time last year at the county Needle Exchange Program, the number of jail inmates going through heroin withdrawals has increased 7 to 10 percent, arrests for heroin use and sale have increased, and more people are entering rehab.

The theories behind the increase?  The drug doesn’t have to be injected anymore, it’s fairly easy to get, addicts are getting younger and, in a recession, it’s cheaper than drugs that offer similar highs.

My opinion?  The article appears spot-on.  I’ve certainly seen a spike in heroin charges filed against defendants.  I only hope that abusers get help as soon as possible.  The whatcom County Drug Task Force is VERY experienced at investigating/busting drug rings.

Drug Courts Huge Success

A National Study found that Drug Courts are widely succesful. 

Here’s a summary of the study’s findings:

RECIDIVISM

Graduates of drug courts are less likely to be rearrested than persons processed through traditional court mechanics. Findings from drug court evaluations show that participation in drug courts results in fewer rearrests and reconvictions, or longer periods between arrests.

COST SAVINGS

Nationwide, drug courts save taxpayer dollars compared to simple probation and/or incarceration, primarily due to reductions in arrests, case processing, jail occupancy and victimization costs. While not all persons diverted to drug court would have otherwise been sentenced to prison, for those individuals who are incarcerated, the average annual cost is estimated to be $23,000 per inmate, while the average annual cost of drug court participation is estimated to be $4,300 per person.

THE EFFECT OF SANCTIONS

The study showed that Drug Courts which reward/sanction all levels of good/bad behavior recognize there is value in incremental progress toward the goal of abstinence.

A participant who faithfully makes all court appearances and meets the obligations of the court may be rewarded with an acknowledgement of accomplishment.  On the other hand, developing a flexible, graduated sanction program is a crucial contributor to a successful drug court program, because even those who are eventually successful in drug court tend first to relapse, warrant, and violate other program rules.

The study concluded that sanctioning should be seen as an opportunity to adjust treatment to limit subsequent relapse, rather than the first step on the path to an eventual termination of drug court participation and a likely sentence to custody.

ROLE OF THE JUDGE

One of the unique aspects of the drug court model is the frequency with which judges interact with participants. The relationship is less formalistic than in traditional courtrooms and is individualized based on the judge’s supervision of an individual’s progress.  The goal is partnership, not sentencing. 

My opinion?  I’m a HUGE fan of drug court!  First, it’s a great negotiating alternative for my clients facing drug charges IF the prosecutor’s charges are fairly strong, evidence is unlikely to be suppressed, and a jury would probably find the offender guilty.  Second, it’s impossible to treat drug addiction with jail or prison sentences.  Period.  Once released, the offender may likely continue using drugs.  Drug Court strikes at the root of the problem by addressing the drug addiction itself.  Finally, the program forces offenders to stay focused on treatment.  The State moniters treatment.  If offenders fail, they may face heavy consequences and get kicked out of Drug Court.

Drug Court should be implemented to a greater degree than it already is.  It presents a win/win situation for everyone: the public, courts, prosecutors, and ultimately the offender.