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Utah Drug Courts - Questions and Answers

Is a Utah drug court program right for you?

If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance abuse or addiction and is also facing criminal charges, then a Utah drug court can provide a good alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. Criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard is one of only a few Utah attorneys in private practice who has significant experience working inside Utah's drug court system. As a former member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, he is uniquely qualified to help his clients decide whether participation in a Utah drug court program is the right way to resolve their legal problems and help them get into the program.

A web page is no substitute for consulting with an experienced attorney. But this page contains answers to several common questions people have about Utah drug courts.

Utah drug courts offer a number of benefits to those who choose to participate. But in choosing to participate in a Utah drug court program, a person also gives up certain rights and opportunities. Consultation with an experienced Utah defense lawyer is critical in deciding whether you want to enter a drug court program.  

Perhaps the most important issue to address is the viability of your defense case in the traditional court system. Have you been falsely accused? Were your constitutional rights violated through an unlawful search? Are there other legal or factual issues that would support a valid defense to the charges you are facing? You should consult with an experienced Utah defense attorney to determine whether your case is one you want to fight, or one you want to resolve.

If you decide you want to resolve your case and you are eligible for a Utah drug court, your lawyer can help you determine whether drug court is right for you. Stephen Howard worked for several years as a defense attorney in a Utah felony drug court program and has the experience, both from the inside and from the outside, to help you make an informed decision about whether drug court is the best way to deal with your case. You should contact an experienced Utah defense attorney for an initial confidential consultation.

Are my charges eligible for acceptance to a Utah drug court program?

While drug possession (possession of a controlled substance) may be the most common charge accepted into Utah drug courts, it is not the only charge accepted. Each jurisdiction may have its own set of standards on what charges can be accepted. But charges commonly accepted by many Utah drug courts include theft, forgery, credit card fraud, prescription fraud, and burglary. While working as a drug court defense attorney, Stephen Howard even worked with clients who had been charged with aggravated robbery who were accepted into a drug court program.

Distribution charges may exclude a person from participation in drug court. Some jurisdictions may have firm rules against any distribution charge. Other jurisdictions will make a distinction between dealers selling drugs for profit as compared to a person addicted to drugs who distributed a small amount to a friend.

Violent offenses sometimes exclude a person from eligibility. And prosecutors are often hesitant to allow drug distribution cases into Utah drug court programs. One of the key factors a Utah prosecutor may consider in determining whether to accept a case into drug court is whether the substance abuse and drug addiction are the root cause of the criminal charges. An experienced defense lawyer can help convince a prosecutor that addiction is the real issue.

Even if your charge doesn't involve drugs or a controlled substance, you may still be eligible for a Utah drug court. Having an attorney on your side who is familiar with Utah drug courts from the inside may give you the best chance of being accepted into drug court. Back to questions.

Do I need a lawyer if I want to participate in a Utah drug court?

Before deciding to participate in a Utah drug court program, it is important to consult with an experienced Utah defense lawyer. While most people do not keep a private attorney through the entire drug court process, it is vital to have a good lawyer at the outset, to ensure that your rights are protected and to help you make informed decisions about whether the program is right for you.

While the treatment in Utah drug courts can be exceptional, your case is still a criminal case that carries with it the possibility of jail or prison time. In some circumstances, a person is better off fighting the criminal charges and getting treatment through programs outside of the criminal justice  system.  Sometimes, though, a drug court program will be the best solution for both the legal case and the substance abuse issues. Contacting an experienced Utah defense attorney is the first step to determining whether drug court is your best option. Back to questions.

Is a Utah drug court the easy way to deal with my case?

A Utah drug court may be the best way to deal with your case, but it should not be considered the "easy way out." Drug court can be a lot of work.

Utah drug courts typically demand a significant commitment, requiring participation in substance abuse treatment, frequent and random drug testing to monitor participants' sobriety, as well as other treatment, classes, or programs designed to help participants get their lives back on track.

To succeed in drug court, you have to be able and willing to make the drug court program your top priority. Drug court has to come before job, family, friends, and anything else. This is not always easy. But if you let other things prevent you from fulfilling the drug court requirements, you may find yourself locked up for violating the judge's orders. At that point, jail becomes your only priority. You can't work, take care of your family, or do anything else.

Most Utah drug courts are set up on the premise that a person fighting addiction may need a few chances before they finally get their addiction under control. So you won't get kicked out of most drug courts just for using drugs. But if you violate certain rules, you could find yourself facing an order to show cause.

Each court will have its own standards on what will result in an order to show cause. But violations that can result in an order to show cause will typically include getting caught tampering with a drug test, dealing drugs, committing a new DUI offense, and committing a domestic violence offense or other assault.

If the court finds evidence to support the allegations on the order to show cause, you could be removed from the drug court program and sentenced. Depending on the nature of your original charge, that could mean a substantial period in jail or even a prison sentence.

For most violations of drug court rules, you will probably not be removed from the program. But you will receive a sanction of some kind. The nature of the sanction will depend in part on what you did, what your history with the court has been, the recommendations of therapists and other drug court team members, and how you dealt with the violation. For example, a person who relapses and immediately contacts their case manager to get help may be given a lighter sanction than a person who relapses and tries to hide that fact. Back to questions.

If Utah drug court is so much work, is it worth it?

The benefits of successfully completing a Utah drug court program can be significant, both in terms of legal consequences and also your life in general.

Many Utah prosecutors will agree to allow a drug court plea to be "held in abeyance" conditioned on your successful completion of the program requirements. That means that if you graduate successfully from the drug court program, your case can be dismissed with no conviction ever entering on your record. Once the charges are dismissed, you may be eligible to have the entire matter expunged from your record after 30 days.

If the plea is held in abeyance, that may also make it easier for you to keep your drivers license. In Utah, even a misdemeanor controlled substance or paraphernalia conviction can mean losing your license. But if the plea is held in abeyance pursuant to a drug court agreement, it does not become a "conviction" and you may be able to keep your license. For many people, being able to drive can be vital to maintaining their employment, getting to treatment, taking care of their families, and more.

Even if the drug court program will not hold your plea in abeyance, having the conviction take place in a Utah drug court can be the key to keeping you out of prison. If your record is extensive or the charges serious, a prosecuting attorney may be asking the judge to send you to prison. And drug court may be your last chance to stay out of prison.

Legal consequences aside, perhaps the biggest benefit from successfully completing a Utah drug court program is learning to live your life clean and sober. Drug court can mean a chance to get a fresh start in life. An experienced Utah defense attorney can help you take the first step toward getting a chance to start over.

Jail should never become a revolving door. Unfortunately, for a person struggling with addiction, the first trip to jail is often not the last. Drug charges as well as crimes that seem unrelated to drugs can repeat and escalate as addiction takes greater control over the addict's life. Unless the root issue of addiction is addressed, jail can become a revolving door.

During his years as defense counsel in a Utah felony drug court, Stephen Howard acquired extensive training and experience in how to deal with substance abuse issues within the context of the legal system. His experience and training can help guide clients through the legal system toward lasting solutions. Back to questions.

Can I keep my license?

There are sometimes unexpected consequences to having a drug conviction. Some of these consequences relate to your driver's license or professional licenses you may have. Participating in a Utah drug court can help with some of these collateral consequences.

One of the most common collateral consequences for a Utah drug conviction involves your driver's license. If convicted, your license will be suspended, even if you were not driving and the case had nothing to do with a vehicle. Many Utah drug courts allow participants to enter a plea in abeyance agreement. Under this agreement, even if you plead guilty, the case is not considered a conviction. Therefore, you may keep your driver's license.

The relationship between your professional license and your drug court participation can be more complicated. And you should talk to an experienced Utah attorney before making any decisions regarding your case. Back to questions.

Contact an experienced Utah defense attorney now.

If drugs are a part of your life, a Utah drug court program may be a part of the solution. Contact an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer to schedule a confidential consultation and initial case analysis.

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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.
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