Flagstaff is fortunate. We have one of the best Drug Court Programs available in Arizona. In this article, I’ll define what makes a Drug Court; how it is authorized by Arizona law; and how it resolves some of the most difficult Arizona drug prosecutions.
The mission statement of the Coconino County DUI/Drug Court is as follows: To require abstinence and accountability, and promote recovery through a court-supervised treatment program which reduces crime, improves community safety, and leads the participant to a healthier, more productive lifestyle.
Every superior court in Arizona has the vested power to form a Drug Court Program at any time. See A.R.S. section 13-3422(A). Eligible defendants are limited to those who are “drug dependent persons.” See A.R.S. section 13-3422(B).
Those ineligible include violent/dangerous offenders, sex offenders, and those who have previously completed or were terminated from a Drug Court Program. To be admitted in the Flagstaff program, each defendant must be individually screened and approved by the Drug Court Program and its team consisting of a substance abuse professional, judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer, and other qualified individuals.
The Coconino County DUI/Drug Court is a voluntary and court-supervised attempt to provide drug dependent persons with substance abuse rehabilitation and community involvement. It is, in many cases, a superior alternative to a prison term.
Flagstaff’s program is generally 12 months in duration with an intensive outpatient treatment program of counseling, recovery support groups, urinalysis tests, and a victim impact panel. Flagstaff’s program utilizes an incentive-based structure for sobriety and compliance and immediate sanctions for relapse or non-compliance. Speaking of non-compliance, where a program participant fails to fulfill the terms and conditions of probation, the court is required to find the participant guilty and sentence the defendant as provided by law, including a prison sentence in many cases.
On the other hand, compliance and successful completion of Drug Court allows the court to discharge the participant (i.e. the defendant) and dismiss the charges as agreed upon. Some of the toughest felony cases in Flagstaff, and elsewhere in Arizona, come as a result of drug abuse and drug addiction.
Whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, or more addictive substances like cocaine and heroin, abuse and addiction leads to felony DUI, selling drugs, transporting drugs, prostitution, theft, shoplifting, and other crimes punished severely by Arizona’s mandatory sentencing schemes. Many young adults get caught up in a drug-fueled lifestyle and, at a young age, realistically face 20+ years incarceration in the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Such cases are often a perfect opportunity for admittance into the Drug Court Program, to rehabilitate and save taxpayers millions of dollars in prison costs and future prosecutions of recidivist offenders. Drug Court offers an alternative to prison in an attempt to help individuals and serve the public by rehabilitating the accused and helping them build a stable, drug-free life.
Such offenders are far less likely to reoffend. And we are all better off.