For individuals charged with serious drug offenses in North Dakota, the criminal justice system frequently looks to impose harsh penalties without enough regard to treatment for chemically addicted defendants. The old model of arrest-and-incarcerate drug addicts has led to mass incarceration and a path of destroyed lives over the course of the past 50 years. In some ways, that model has not changed but there has been one undeniably successful change that has occurred here in North Dakota during that time: DRUG COURT. More and more counties in North Dakota offer some form of this program, and anyone charged with a serious drug or alcohol offense needs to discuss this type of programming with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
What is Drug Court?
Drug Court is a period of intense supervision via probation that can be imposed as a sentence for certain drug and alcohol related offenses. The program is designed for non-violent defendants who show a desire to complete chemical dependency treatment along with AA/NA Classes and group meetings supervised by court and probation staff. Along with other penalties, the court can impose drug court treatment for people who apply and show that they can handle the rigorous hours required to satisfy the program.
Who Is Eligible for Drug Court?
Defendants charged with felony level drug offenses and felony (sometimes misdemeanor) drunk driving offenses are the most likely eligible candidates. The defendant must apply for the program and show that they are chemically dependent and in need of treatment. More importantly, the defendant must demonstrate a willingness to attend chemical dependency treatment (both individually and if needed, in group settings) as well as weekly drug court meeting where they participate in supporting others in the program. Also, the applicants must attend additional AA/NA Classes to further ensure sobriety and accountability. Finally, applicants with violent prior offenses are excluded from application to the program: it is specifically designed to assist non-violent, chemically addicted people.
What is the benefit of a Drug Court sentence?
Successful completion of the program (typically a minimum of 18 months) can lead to a successful discharge from probation with criminal charges amended to lesser offenses (typically a felony would be amended to a misdemeanor offense). It is even possible that the criminal charges are set aside or sealed upon successful completion of the drug court program. Moreover, the lessening or dismissal of felony charges can have an enormous impact on the employment, housing and educational future of the successful applicant.