There is a concern that Proposition 47 may be undermining Sonoma County’s Drug Court Program. See the link to the Press Democrat article from Sunday, March 15, 2015, entitled, ‘Sonoma County Drug Court Facing New Reality.’
The established Drug Court Program is a process authorized by the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000. In Sonoma County this process involves a collaborative approach by the DA, the court, probation department, and (Treatment Alternatives to Street Crimes), TASC to provide drug treatment for non-violent drug offenders. As a side note, one category of people who qualify for drug court are third strike offenders who could otherwise face life in prison! So this program really was designed to provide a chance for people who are committing crimes as a result of their drug addiction but the Court is designed for the defendant to avoid the standard consequences of their crimes as long as they actively participate in drug treatment. Personally for me and for the other members of the Firm, it is a heart-warming program. Sure, there are the cold hard facts of the offense, which often involves offensive or bad behavior or misconduct. There are numerous examples—individuals passed out unconscious in the street with their pants pulled down or other defendants trying to swallow their ½ gram of methamphetamine to avoid detection and to get that one last high from their ‘drug of choice’ instead of seeing it seized and placed into evidence. Can you imagine being that desperate that you would resort to swallowing a ½ gram of meth? Instead, these people need help and Drug Court can work for them!
Our Law Firm is committed to ‘Alternatives to Jail’ [ www.alternativesToJail.com] and we have represented many individuals facing long jail or prison sentences who have successfully completed and graduated from Drug Court. It is a good program, but you better be ready for sobriety if you want to successfully participate and graduate! It is a 12 month program that includes intensive counseling and drug testing and appearances in court for weekly, then monthly, then less often reviews.
I have been present when clients have successfully completed the Program. It can be really amazing because the judge calls people who have “graduated” Drug Court first when the proceedings begin in the morning. The court will call the defendant up to the front of the Court and sincerely congratulate and extoll their successes which Probation and Defense Counsel (us) conveyed to the Court. These acalades will consist of great progress reports, clean test results, and other positive achievements and even all of the obstacles the defendant had to endure to successfully graduate from Drug Court. The Court will often personalize the experience(s) of the graduate telling a crowded courtroom how the defendant has found suitable living space, is gainfully employed if that is the case, and how the defendant is participating in the community and if applicable, how the defendant has made other positive changes, i.e. found God, become spiritual or now has a meaningful relationship with another person.
It is so rewarding to see experience the entire process in Drug Court especially the final step in the defendant’s process when the court (the sitting Judge) is seen congratulating the defendant clapping and smiling along with the public who are in attendance. If you have never experienced this it can bring tears to your eyes. You realize the amount of hardship this person has been through. They have passed a sort of test by the probation department, the court, the district attorney and even their own defense attorney, not to mention their friends and family, and they have proven themselves!
It would be sad if proposition 47 was somehow taking away from that. The idea is that because Proposition 47 reduced the seriousness of personal drug related offenses, defendants are now less motivated to participate and then later successfully complete Drug Court because they no longer face or fear being convicted of a felony. I have to question that concern. I think it is fantastic that offenses covering personal drug use, such as possession of a ½ gram of cocaine are now misdemeanors. For first-time offenders a misdemeanor makes far more sense than charging first-time offenders with ‘straight-up’ felonies having life-long sentences and draconian consequences. A misdemeanor conviction allows the defendant to expunge his/her conviction and ‘clean’ their record so they may again be employed gainfully and move on with life. If you are convicted of a felony you are forever prohibited from possessing a firearm and you are forever labeled a felon not able to even vote and precluded from holding many different licenses and jobs.
The concern of the Press Democrat article is understandable, but I believe that it really comes down to the defendant/person; do they really want to change their lives? That is the question. If they don’t then those are the people who will not successfully complete Drug Court anyway. They are the ones who will arrive in court early on a Monday morning and have their names called, stand up, and appear before the court, be told by the court that they tested positive for methamphetamine and be summarily arrested, their handcuffs checked for tightness and double locked. OUR LAW FIRM and I will fight our hardest for people with addictions and want to change their lives for the better. Our Law Firm has a proven track record of doing just that. I think the people who want to change and are ready for positive change will do the things necessary to complete Drug Court; and we are here to help! When addicted defendants hit rock bottom and want to change, for the better, it does not really matter whether Proposition 47 is in existence or not, human nature will prevail and they will make the necessary changes to successfully complete Drug Court.