There are two kinds of drug crime proceedings in California. The first occurs in the traditional way that other crimes are prosecuted, beginning with a criminal charge and ending with a dismissal, acquittal, or sentencing. The second occurs in Drug Court.
Traditional court proceedings are designed to punish guilty drug defendants, although innocent people who are falsely accused are sometimes caught in the net that police and prosecutors use to catch drug dealers. Drug Court proceedings are meant to help drug users. While that is a worthy goal, whether the Drug Court is helpful or harmful is not always clear.
TRADITIONAL COURT HEARINGS IN DRUG CASES
Most serious drug crimes — those that involve the sale of drugs or that are committed together with a crime of violence — will be prosecuted in traditional criminal court proceedings. The only person in those proceedings who wants to help you is your lawyer.
The goal of the police in drug cases is to improve their statistics. They do that by arresting low-level users and street dealers and pressuring them to give up their sources. They hope to “climb the ladder??? so that they can arrest higher-level dealers.
Unfortunately, when “small??? dealers and users are threatened with lengthy sentences if they fail to cooperate, they often accuse people of drug crimes they did not commit. Users do not want to burn their dealers because they might lose their source of drugs. Dealers do not want to snitch on their suppliers because it is not healthy to become known as an informant.
People who are pressured to cooperate sometimes point the police to someone who is entirely innocent. More often, they give the police information about another user or low-level dealer and exaggerate that person’s involvement in drug crime. That way, they make their information seem more valuable than it really is. Although drug users and dealers do not tend to be reliable sources, the police take them at their word when they accuse someone of a drug crime.
Once an arrest is made and a criminal prosecution begins, only a drug defense attorney stands between the accused and an unfair sentence. Fortunately, experienced criminal defense lawyers know how to discredit witnesses who are only out to save their own skins. A skilled cross-examination of a snitch will often force the criminal justice system to behave reasonably, much to the dismay of police and prosecutors who are more concerned with statistics than justice.
DRUG COURT HEARINGS
Drug Court is usually available only to individuals who are accused of possessing drugs for their personal use. In some cases, Drug Court may be available to defendants who are accused of selling small quantities of drugs, particularly if the sales are motivated by a desire to pay for the accused’s own drug habit. While the Drug Court not an option for everyone accused of a drug crime, it can be a good alternative to traditional criminal court proceedings.
Unfortunately, the Drug Court is never easy. The emphasis in on treatment. Individuals who enter a Drug Court program are expected to follow a strict set of rules. They will be expected to stop using drugs and will be randomly tested to assure their sobriety. That’s asking a lot from people who are addicted. Some Drug Court judges are better than others about giving second or third chances to participants who relapse, but no judge has infinite patience. A Drug Court participant who breaks the rules is always at risk of failing the program.
Most Drug Court programs require the accused to admit guilt (or to plead “no contest???) as a condition of entering the program. If they are discharged from the program, they face a criminal sentence. At that point, it is too late to exercise the right to a trial. Drug Court is only a good option for offenders who are willing to make a sincere commitment to stop using drugs and who have the ability to succeed in overcoming their addictions.
A drug defense attorney can help individuals accused of drug crimes decide whether Drug Court is right for them. In some cases, other diversion programs might be available that are better suited to the defendant. In other cases, it might be possible to get the charges dismissed or to obtain an acquittal by staying in the traditional court system. Rather than assuming that Drug Court is right for you, getting advice from a seasoned criminal defense lawyer might save you from the consequences you face if you do not succeed in Drug Court.