Newark, NJ- Drug addiction is a problem that thousands of New Jersey’s citizens grapple with and it’s a problem that ripples throughout a community. Addiction can lead a person to commit crimes; the need for the next high often overrides an addict’s sense of right and wrong, compelling him or her to do things he or she wouldn’t do if he or she weren’t dependent on drugs. Certain crimes, such as drug possession, theft and burglary, are often related to a person addiction.
Our society views addiction as a disease that can be cured or at least controlled with treatment, but why is addiction a disease? It is because many scientists have evidence that most addiction is caused by genetics and is therefore a brain disorder, just like any other mental health illnesses. This philosophy, of addiction as a disease, is reflected in New Jersey’s criminal justice system by offering addicts an alternative to jail through the state’s Drug Court.
The purpose of Drug Court is to treat the individual’s addiction if they would not otherwise pose a threat to society. For the right person, someone with discipline and a desire to beat their addiction, drug court serves as an alternative to a prison sentence by addressing the participant’s addiction. By treating a person’s addiction, Drug Court aims to end their repeat involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Drug Court is its own entity, different from the criminal court, with stringent admission requirements overseen by a special judge and a team of court staff, attorneys, drug addiction counselors and treatment specialists. Drug Court is a rigid program in which participants’ lives and activities are closely monitored and they interact regularly with the drug court staff.
Currently, there are two separate sets of criteria, Track I and Track II, offering a person admission into the program. Track II is a special probation with criteria different than regular probation and excludes many serious or violent criminal offenses. Track I is regular probation in which the judge imposes Drug Court as a condition of probation and allows the court to enter defendants convicted of more serious and sometimes violent crimes to be admitted to drug court. Since the creation of Drug Court in 2002, New Jersey legislators have amended admission requirements, which has created some confusion what bars a person from entering the program.
If you are facing a drug-related offense and are considering Drug court, you can contact me and we can discuss whether you are eligible for the program and capable of meeting the program’s strict requirements.
A recent appeals court decision, State of New Jersey vs. Gregory Maurer, addressed the conflicts in the Drug Court admission requirements.
Maurer involved a 25 year-old man, struggling with addiction, who had a string of drug-related charges in his past. In 2008, while on probation for a drug possession charge, the defendant in this case was caught by police with a weapon in his possession. He was arrested and charged with a probation violation. He plead guilty to a second degree weapons charge and was sentenced to three years in prison with no possibility of parole for one year.
In 2013, after being released from prison, the defendant was charged with three addiction-related drug offenses. While awaiting disposition, the defendant entered a drug counseling program, including Narcotics Anonymous, and was assured he would be able to enter into Drug Court. Upon admission to the program, his charges from Gloucester and Burlington Counties would be consolidated. A Gloucester County prosecutor, however, denied him admission based on his 2008 weapons charge, even though his current charges did not indicate violence, weapons or a danger to society.
The defendant appealed, arguing that admission to the program is more restrictive for minor offenders (Track II) than for people with more serious offenses (Track I). And under legislative changes that went into effect in 2013, offenders with similar charges as the defendant would be allowed admission into Drug Court. In the court’s opinion, justices noted that it isn’t fair the defendant was denied admission under one track when he would have been eligible under another track.
The appellate court noted in their decision that recent changes in the law governing the drug court created a number of discrepancies in the two tracks of admission. In spite of the legislature’s intent to encourage greater participation in Drug Court, the appeals court believes that disparities in the two tracks are unnecessarily barring individuals from the program.
The appellate court remanded the defendant’s case to the Law Division for further consideration in spite of his past weapons charge. Justices also encouraged changes to the Drug Court Manual, which was written in 2002, and does not reflect subsequent changes to eligibility requirements.
This decision is significant because it makes admission into Drug Court possible for offenders whose present charges are non-violent even if they have prior convictions involving violence or weapons. The decision does not alter the admission criteria for defendants presently charged with violent or weapons offenses
If you are facing any drug-related or addiction-driven charges, you have a number of tough decisions to make about how you will approach your criminal defense. I will evaluate the circumstances of your arrest and using my experience with New Jersey criminal courts and the drug court to help you decide on the best course of action to take. You can count on me to work in your best interest and vigorously advocate for your rights.