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 . . .