Washington State Drug Courts Help Users Get Clean and Avoid Prison Time
No longer does a drug arrest necessarily mean jail time. A greater public understanding of the struggles of addiction, combined with concerns about mass incarceration, has impelled Washington State to offer treatment as an alternative to punishment for nonviolent drug offenders.
As of January 2019, 27 of the state’s 39 counties had special drug diversion courts, designed to reduce substance abuse and prevent further criminal action. These courts allow defendants with substance abuse problems to complete “early, continuous, and intense judicially supervised treatment” instead of incarceration.
Studies show that alternative sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders offer numerous benefits. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 75 percent of individuals nationwide who successfully complete drug court programs do not experience subsequent arrests. On the other hand, only 30 percent of individuals released from prison remain arrest-free. Drug courts also save taxpayers money — up to $13,000 per participant compared to state prison time, the NADCP says.
In Washington State, drug courts accept the cases of nonviolent, substance abusing offenders. If a prosecutor does not automatically refer a defendant to drug court, the defense attorney can seek to have the case transferred upon a showing that the defendant has a substance-abuse disorder.
Except where special exceptions are granted, individuals are ineligible for participation in a drug diversion court if they face charges or have been convicted of:
- A serious violent offense or sex crime
- Vehicular homicide or an equivalent out-of-state offense
- An offense alleging substantial bodily harm or great bodily harm or the death of another person
Individuals who are charged with intentional discharge, threat to discharge or attempt to discharge a firearm in furtherance of a drug offense are also ineligible for drug court.
People who enter drug court programs must pass regular drug tests and participate in forms of rehabilitation deemed appropriate for their case. Those who graduate and meet certain other requirements can have their criminal charges dismissed. Failure to complete drug court requirements, however, can return the defendant to the criminal sentencing process.
There are separate drug courts for adult and juvenile offenders. Specific eligibility rules for drug diversion court may vary by the county where the alleged crime occurred, and updates can be made to eligibility requirements based on new research.
With more than three decades of experience as a criminal defense attorney, Walter Peale is well-versed in the drug laws and courts all across Washington State. The Seattle-area office of the Peale Law Firm helps clients with drug convictions enter and pass through drug court programs. To learn more about how we can help, call us at 206-906-9112 or contact us online.