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Drug Court Drop-Outs: Understanding the Consequences for Failing to Fulfill the Requirements

November 6, 2015 | Posted In Criminal Law - Drugs

In most drug crime cases, especially when the defendant is a first-time offender, a judge will order a period of out- or inpatient rehabilitation as part of the defendant’s penalties. Drug crimes are unique in that they are typically motivated by an addiction and drug users have a hard time breaking their patterns of behavior (even after they are caught and penalized) without the help of a rehabilitation or treatment program.

Convicted criminals may be offered an opportunity to attend rehab or receive detoxification as part of their court-ordered punishment, but these opportunities have strict requirements for success. Court-ordered rehabilitation usually has a set timeframe (90 days, two weeks or total completion of a specific program), and convicted drug criminals are required to attend as many sessions as they have been assigned before the judge will consider their sentence completed.

In New Jersey’s Drug Court program, which is specifically intended for substance-abusing nonviolent defendants, participants are assessed and referred to treatment. Once they have been assigned to their specific plan, the participants are monitored closely for the next five years and subject to frequent, random drug testing, as well as court appearances as necessary. This “special probation,” as it is called, is in place of the state’s harsh drug crime penalties -- but if participants fail the program, the consequences can be even worse.

State v. Bishop and State v. Torres

In two recent cases, the state Supreme Court assigned harsher penalties to Drug Court participants who failed to meet their requirements. Darryl Bishop and Wilberto Torres pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin less than 1,000 feet away from a school. Because both men had prior drug convictions on their record, they could have been sentenced to an extended jail term, but instead agreed to plea deals that involved participation in the state’s Drug Court.

However, both Bishop and Torres failed to uphold the terms of their participation and were re-sentenced to jail time and extended periods of parole ineligibility. In their appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the men argued that the re-sentencing violated two Supreme Court decisions from 1989 and 1992 that placed limits on re-sentencing after a probation infraction.

The state Supreme Court justices ruled that the language of the special probation statute allows a judge to issue “any sentence that might have been imposed, or that would have been required to be imposed, originally for the offense for which the person was convicted or adjudicated delinquent.” This statute makes it permissible for a judge to re-sentence Bishop and Torres with the full maximum penalties for their crimes.

Drug Court is a viable option for many offenders who need to get a handle on their addiction before they can truly make up for their crimes. But for those who refuse to take it seriously or fail to meet the required criteria, the probationary period can easily turn into lengthy jail sentences. If you have been charged with a drug crime, contact the New Jersey drug crime attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, to discuss your options today.

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