When Utah established its first drug court in Salt Lake City in 1996, many in the judicial system and law enforcement were skeptical that the program would be helpful in solving the state's rising problem with drug-related crime.
However, these specialty courts have today spread into all eight of the state's judicial districts. Statistics show that those who have been convicted of drug crimes and participate in drug court have remarkably better success and reduced recidivism rates than those who go through the traditional penal system.
Utah Drug Courts: What are They?
Utah drug court is a program that operates on the philosophy that in order to reduce drug related offenses, the system needs to address the underlying problem of drug addiction in those committing these crimes.
Specifically, drug courts focus on helping the participant become sober through a combination of frequent drug testing, therapy and court supervision. Participants have case managers and work with therapists, chemical dependency counselors and other professionals on a case plan to help them overcome their addictions and to learn coping mechanisms and better decision-making skills. Those involved in drug courts must go to weekly drug court meetings and report on their progress to the judge. Participants spend an average of 18 months in the program, progressing through a series of five stages with decreasing supervision at each stage.
Utah Drug Court Eligibility & Requirements
Eligibility for drug court varies with each district. Those with drug offense convictions, such as possession, are most often candidates for participation. However, if a defendant can show that drug addiction was at the root of an offense such as robbery, theft or forgery, he or she may be allowed to participate in drug court.
A participant in drug court needs to agree to work to overcome his or her addiction. If a participant relapses, he or she gets a fine or a one to two week jail term as a penalty.
Additionally, there are certain things that a participant can do for which the court will issue an order to show cause why the court should not remove the participant from the program and place him or her in jail, such as tampering with a drug test, driving under the influence, dealing drugs or committing assault. The judge then has the discretion to remove a participant from the program if the participant cannot adequately demonstrate that he or she is still committed to overcoming his or her addiction.
Benefits of Utah Drug Court
One Salt Lake City drug crimes lawyer says that drug courts are an immeasurable help to the people who complete them successfully. Some prosecutors are willing to hold a drug court plea in abeyance until a defendant successfully completes the drug court program. This means that if the defendant graduates from drug court, the participant has no conviction on his or her record and he or she may be eligible to expunge the incident from his or her record after 30 days.
An additional benefit of holding a plea in abeyance includes allowing the defendant to keep his or her driver's license, since the plea will not show up as a conviction on the defendant's record while he or she is in drug court. For many, the ability to drive means the difference between keeping and losing a job - which may be critical to a person's successful recovery from addiction.
Drug court may also help those with extensive criminal histories or who are facing serious charges stay out of prison, even if a prosecutor is not willing to hold a plea in abeyance.
Perhaps the biggest and most lasting benefit that drug court offers to its participants is the chance to overcome addiction and change their lives. Utah's drug courts have hundreds of successful graduates who credit their participation in drug court with helping them rebuild their lives.
If you are facing drug charges and want to know if you are eligible for participation in drug court, contacting an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options is recommended.