The Complete Guide to Drug Court in Missouri & If It’s the Right Option for Your Drug Possession Charges
If you or a loved one is charged with drug possession in Missouri, you might be wondering if going to a drug court is the right option for you. You are not the only one who has that question. In fact, that’s one of the most common questions that our St.Louis drug possession lawyers at the Combs Law Group get asked. We would like to give you a straight answer to this question, but it doesn’t exist. The best option for drug possession charges depends on your particular circumstances, and if drug court is an option you need to think seriously about what it entails.
The state of Missouri treats drug crimes very seriously. A conviction for drug charges can result in imprisonment of up to seven years and fines of up to $5000. That’s why it is in your best interest to seek advice from a Missouri criminal defense attorney right from the very beginning of the proceedings against you. When we work on a drug possession case, we always employ defensive strategies aimed at dismissal or reduction of the charges. Sometimes, when it’s in our clients’ best interest, we will recommend drug court as an alternative to prison or jail. Let’s take a closer look at what drug court is all about and what it could mean for you if you decide to go that route.
What is Drug Court and Is It the Right Option for Your Drug Possession Charges?
A Drug Court is a voluntary treatment program for first-time, non-violent felony offenders who have substance abuse issues. Its goal, as defined by most legal jurisdiction in Missouri, is to provide the defendant with supportive community supervision and help them deal with the underlying problem, their drug addiction. Most importantly for you, it means you could avoid doing jail time for your drug problem.
When a first-time offender commits a crime in which drug abuse plays a significant role, they can be offered to join a drug court program. It is the most effective way to help them become a productive citizen and combat recidivism. In fact, the program is so effective that up to 95% of participants do not return to drugs and crime once they completed the program. The offender has to plead guilty before or after being admitted to the drug court program. If they complete the program successfully, they can withdraw the guilty plea and the charges against them will be dropped. If they don’t abide by the program’s requirements and break the rules, they will have to serve time in jail and pay a fine.
There are 130 drug court programs in Missouri, accommodating up to 7000 offenders annually. I most cases, your criminal defense lawyer will advise you to opt for one because that way you’ll avoid jail and fines and get a better and healthy life. Missouri drug courts are well known for their efficiency. On average, all of them have 61% graduation, but the St.Charles County Drug Court, in particular, is the most successful one, with 95% of the participants never committing a crime again. As experienced St.Charles criminal defense attorneys, we can confirm this to be true. Moreover, this program saves the State of Missouri around $10 million per year in incarceration costs.
If you want to be eligible for a Drug Court, you have to meet certain requirements. They differ from county to county, but for any of them you can expect to be required to meet the following criteria:
- Be a first-time offender
- Be a substance abuser
- The substances you abuse played a significant role in committing the crime
- The criminal offense has to be drug-related
- The offense mustn’t be violent
- You have to plead guilty before or after being admitted into the program
However, no two drug court programs are the same. Depending on where you live or where your charges are pending, you may need to meet additional requirements The following overview of a few of the drug court programs in Missouri will give you an idea about whether a drug court is the right option for you.
St.Louis County Drug Court
You will be admitted to the St.Louis County drug court program if you meet the following requirements:
- Be a non-violent offender
- Be at least 17 years old
- Plead guilty for a felony
- Waive your preliminary hearing
- Commit to at least 15 months of treatment
- Be a technical probation violator
If you don’t meet these requirements, you won’t be allowed into the program, and you may have to serve time in jail and be fined if convicted of felony drug possession. Just pleading guilty won’t secure you a spot there either. Before considering going to a drug court in Missouri, make sure that you talk with a St.Louis criminal defense attorney to advise you whether this program is the best you can get or if you can get into it at all.
The program costs $40 per month. It is tailored to the needs of the offender. The duration will depend on their individual progress, but never for less than 15 months. Upon entering the program, you’ll have to abide by certain rules, such as doing 40 hours of community service, attending scheduled treatments and appointments, participating in regular court supervision, as well a other requirements.
The St.Louis Drug Court program has four phases:
- Assessment and intensive supervision phase (6-8 weeks on average)
- Primary treatment phase (20-24 weeks on average)
- Continued care (16-20 weeks on average)
- Minimum supervision or commencement phase (16-20 weeks on average)
Once admitted into the drug court program, you have to ensure that you follow all the rules. If you don’t, your admittance will be revoked, and you’ll be fined and jailed. But, if you complete the program successfully, you’ll be allowed to revoke your plea of guilty and the charges against you will be dropped.
City of St. Louis Drug Court
The city of St.Louis has their own requirements for admission into drug courts. There are separate requirements for pre-plea and post-plea cases. If you plead guilty before being admitted in the program, the requirements are as follows:
- You have to be charged with drug or alcohol charges, or your offense has to be motivated by drugs or alcohol
- You have to be a non-violent offender and your crime mustn’t involve a significant drug dealing
- The victim of the offense must agree that you can enter the program
- You must not be on parole
- You must not have more than three felony offenses in the past
- You agree to participate in the program, pay compensation, if any, and pay the court fees
- If you have pled guilty already, the criteria for admittance are as follows:
- No violent history
- You are a substance abuser
- You have to be charged with drug or alcohol charges or your offense has to be motivated by drugs or alcohol
- You have to be a non-violent offender and your crime should not involve a significant drug dealing
- You agree to participate in the program, pay compensation, if any, and pay the court fees
- You are not a graduate of a drug court program
- The court fees associated with the program are $30 per month. It has three phases and lasts for a minimum of eleven months.
Franklin County Drug Court
Franklin County Drug Court is possible if you meet the following requirements:
- You are dependent on drugs
- You live in Franklin or Gasconade County and have viable transportation
- You have a criminal charge pending in Franklin County
- The criminal charge has to be drug-related or another non-violent felony in which substance abuse was a significant factor
- Your present and past offenses, if any, mustn’t include significant drug distribution, manufacturing, sales, or trafficking, nor crimes related to violence, weapons, sex offenses, or felony assaults
- You mustn’t have a physical or a mental condition that could prevent you from successfully completing the drug court program
- You must abide by the program requirements
- If you are on probation, you may be admitted into the program if, in addition to all the requirements mentioned above, you meet the following as well:
- You have at least 24 months remaining for supervision on probation
- You mustn’t have any revocation pending in another county
- You don’t owe excessive restitution to the court
- Offenders go through three phases of recovery, and if they complete them all successfully, they are allowed to withdraw their guilty plea. That results in charges against them being dropped. If you remain substance-free for 32 weeks, you’ll be good to go.
- There are many rules that offenders have to respect during the program, including regular drug tests, court visitations, being respectful to the court, going for treatments, and others. Not respecting them may lead to being removed from the program and going to jail. Talk to your drug possession attorney to ensure that you abide by the rules all the time because the risk is too big.
It Looks Great, but Be Careful
Drug Court programs can be a great option for offenders who qualify, but before opting for one, you and your drug possession attorney have to take into account all the circumstances surrounding your life. Keep in mind that not abiding by the rules of the program will have you expelled and sent to jail. Think about any reasons that could prevent you from fulfilling your obligation of the drug court program. Just don’t take the benefits for granted. The truth is that drug courts across Missouri have different guidelines, but there’s one thing they all have in common. Drug courts are typically very difficult to complete successfully. In fact, some drug courts are designed to make the defendants fail. Why is this you might be wondering? Well, as society has started to recognize drug addiction as a disease that needs treatment, Prosecutors are now more inclined to use drug courts as an alternative to jail. However, they have merged punitive aspects into the drug court process. Meaning, they don’t want it to be an easy road for drug addicts who break the law. In fact, some drug courts have made their programs so unattractive to drug offenders that jail is sometimes the better option. So it depends on the specifics of the drug court in the county you’re charged in. They make it so difficult for the criminal defendants that in some cases it doesn’t make sense to choose the drug court option. You have to able to commit a serious amount of time, money, and patience. And when it comes to drug addicts, meeting those difficult guidelines can be almost impossible. But if you’re someone who is serious about getting and staying sober, and you’re willing to make a long-term commitment to not just drug court, but to your sobriety, then drug court might be a good option for you.
For help with determining whether the drug court programs are the best option for you, call us at the Combs Law Group for free consultations. We specialize in Missouri drug possession cases and we can help you fight your charges and create positive outcomes for your case. Call us today at 314-451-2711 and we can provide you with a free consultation.