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Are all defendants facing drug charges eligible for drug court?

Defendants must qualify to participate in Louisiana drug court programs. Participants are largely first-time offenders, who have not been charged with possession with intent to distribute, drug trafficking or similar charges. A criminal record with a conviction for a violent crime is an immediate disqualifier.

Drug courts exist for several reasons, not the least of which is to help addicted defendants receive evaluation and treatment. Up to 80 percent of all crimes below the federal level involve drugs in some way. Courts sought a way to interrupt the cycle and curb the volume of drug offenders by offering an alternative.

These are intense programs with the participation of all court officers and others working toward the same end. Defendants are motivated by a desire to get help and avoid punishment.

Drug courts are established with the help of federal funds. The continued operation of the courts is dependent upon other sources. Participants are given a medical evaluation, an addiction assessment, drug tests, inpatient and outpatient care, education and job training, plus individual and family counseling. Each participant is under the supervision of a case manager.

Eligibility for drug court is determined by a district attorney and a judge. Considerations include the defendant's age, place of residence, the alleged crime and circumstances surrounding the offense. Only defendants with substance abuse and addiction problems are eligible, provided the prosecutor and judge feel the rehabilitative program will be beneficial.

A defendant may take nearly two years to finish the program, during which time drug charges are deferred. Successful completion of the alternative program can lead to a dismissal of charges and an expungement.

You don't have to wait until a criminal defense attorney brings up the subject to open a discussion about drug court eligibility. Since defense lawyers participate in these programs, they can tell you what to expect, with or without a positive outcome.

Source: District Attorneys Office, Terrebonne Parish, "Drug Court" Dec. 03, 2014

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