Yet another report has come out which demonstrates America's heroin epidemic is contining to spiral out of control.
As reported in Time Magazine, heroin-related deaths have quadrupled in the past three years. Per the article, deaths related to heroin now account for 2.7 deaths per every 100,000 people. The report also indicates that men are dying at a far greater rate than women.
I often have parents come to me when their children have been arrested and ask what they should do. On one hand, the parents want their children to get help -- but on the other hand, they do not want their children to be considered convicted felons as they get older.
The first thing I tell parents after their child is arrested is to get their child help. Many children have been arrested on multiple occasions in quick succession, and some children have died of overdoses while waiting for the criminal jusitce system to dispose of their case.
Often times, the parents or children believe that seeking treatment while a case is pending may be seen as an admission of guilt. This is not true.
To the contrary, if a client seeks treatment for their drug addiction while the case is pending, it demonstrates the trial judge, prosecutors and police that the person is serious about getting clean. It also demonstrates that, even if the person slips and has a relapse, they are attempting to get and stay clean.
If a person does not seek help right away for their addiction, they risk relapsing and picking up new criminal charges. Worse, if the person does not seek treatment, they risk overdosing because their drug addiction is not being addressed.
As far as the criminal case is concerned, there are programs that are specifically designed to assist drug addicts in getting the help that they need while keeping their criminal record clean. The most common of these programs is Treatment in Lieu of Conviction (or "ILC").
Treatment in Lieu allows an individual the opportunity to enter a guilty plea to the drug-related offeense, or a non-drug offense that stemmed from the person's drug usage (such as theft or receiving stolen property), and then have sentencing deferred until the person completes the program. Each court has different requirements for completing Treatment in Lieu. For example, some courts may require an individual to attend weekly meetings or enter rehabilitation, either on an in-patient or out-patient basis. Other courts may require community service or the attendance at support groups, like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
All courts will require that the person be drug tested, although the frequency of the tests (weekly, monthly, random, etc.) will often depend on the individual defendant and the judge. By statute, a person must demonstrate at least twelve (12) months of sobriety before they are allowed to be terminated from the program.
If the person is successfully terminated from Treatment in Lieu, the charges against them are dismissed and their records are sealed as if the incident never occurred. If the person is unsuccessfully terminated from the program, which usually occurs when the person relapses repeatedly or fails to follow the Court's instructions, they can be placed on probation or sentenced to prison. If the individual is unsuccessfully termiated from Treatment in Lieu, the conviction will remain on their criminal record.
While the criminal conviction for drug possession may be sealed or expunged at a later date, if the person is convicted of felony drug possession, the earliest it can be sealed/expunged is three years from the date that the person completes their probation, prison term or post release control.
Additionally, many local courts operate drug courts. The purpose of drug courts is to bring a variety of services together into one group to best assist drug users. In many drug courts, substane abuse counselors, police, law enforcement and defense attorneys come together to assist drug defendants and help them obtain and maintain sobriety.
The rules, including admission criteria, varry from court to court. Many drug courts will only take first-time offenders, while others will allow repeat offenders to enter if their charges are drug related.
Even if you or your child has prior drug convictions, it is possible to avoid prison time. Often, judges will want to see that a person is attempting to tackle their substance abuse issues. Steps like attending support groups, seeking treatment and following pretrial release guidelines can help increase a person's chances of not going to prison.
An experiened trial attorney will be able to review the case and determine if Treatment in Lieu or drug court is appropriate in an individual case. The attorney can walk you through the positives and negatives of both programs, as well as assist you or your family member in determining the best path to take. Further, an experienced trial attorney can help you avoid prison if you are battling a substance abuse issue and have prior convictions.
Attorney Adam VanHo is a former prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General who has handled hundreds of drug and narcotics cases from around Ohio. He has assisted countless individuals in entering drug courts and Treatment in Lieu programs throughout Ohio.