The first Drug Court Program was established in 1989 in Miami-Dade, Florida and was soon implemented in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, as well as throughout the nation’s courts.
Drug Court is a diversion and treatment program. That is, it focuses on addressing the client’s drug addiction and its underlying causes as an alternative to prison. The drug court program gives those charged with drug crimes a second chance to be productive in their lives and to stay out of prison system. Intensive treatment and rehabilitation is used to help offenders succeed in becoming and remaining drug-free. Participation is voluntary.
The Drug Court team is led by the judge and includes the defense and prosecution attorneys, treatment staff and other court related personnel that understand the recovery process and work together to help clients succeed.
Drug Court eligibility is governed by Florida Statute 948.08(6)(a). Generally, a defendant must be charged with possessing or purchasing drugs and the State Attorney must agree to divert the offender from prosecution.
The Drug Court has evolved into a true diversionary court in which the defendant waives no constitutional rights besides the right to a speedy trial . The defendant enters a plea of not guilty without ever having to admit any culpability whatsoever; enters a Pre-trial Intervention Program whereby he must complete at least one year of intensive outpatient treatment and report to the Department of Corrections for 12 months; and once these requirements are complete, the drug-related charges are dismissed and records can be sealed or expunged.
The program lasts a minimum of 12 months per statutory requirement. However, Drug Court clients may spend up to 18 months in the Program, depending on how well they comply with requirements.
In Court, the judge explains the program to new defendants, making it clear that they should expect a year of treatment that it will be difficult to succeed, but that everyone involved will give them all the help they need and keep encouraging them to do better. Defendants are told they will have regular urine tests and must return to Court an average of once a month for review of their progress. Those who refuse or withdraw from the Program are deemed to “opt-out” and are sent to Criminal Court where they may have their attorney fight their cases. This is a decision that should be made after careful thought and discussion with your attorney.
The program has three phases, with drug testing and monitoring throughout the entire program. Again, the program is one year in duration assuming the participant does everything that is required of them.
Program “graduates” will have no conviction on their records, a significant benefit in future employment and career opportunities. Offenders who complete the program will have their case nolle prosequi and their records may be sealed or expunged. Most importantly, clients who have a sincere desire to get off drugs are offered the opportunity to avoid further problems with the law and free themselves of life consuming troubles caused by substance abuse.