Pinellas County Drug Court
Avoiding Conviction Through Drug Court
The Pinellas County Drug Court program consists of a specially designated courtroom that provides comprehensive substance abuse treatment for nonviolent offenders. Clients entering the drug court program through Pre-Trial Intervention (P.T.I), will have their charges dismissed upon successful completion and graduation from the Drug Court program. In some cases, the period of P.T.I. can be shortened by the court, which allows for the extraordinary remedy of an early dismissal of the charge. For those who enter Drug Court as a condition of probation, their successful completion will result in a avoiding a felony conviction. Some of our clients are thereafter eligible to have their criminal records sealed.
Am I Eligible to Participate in Drug Court?
A defendant’s eligibility for Adult Drug Court (a.k.a. Drug Court) is often initially determined at the time the State Attorney’s Office files the formal “information” charging them with the offense. Clients then receive notice from the clerk of court reflecting their initial court appearance scheduled within the drug court division. However, we may be successful in petitioning to have clients transferred from a regular Pinellas County court division into the drug court by showing they would benefit from drug counseling or treatment.
You can enter Drug Court in one of two ways:
1. The first is through the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office Pre-Trial Intervention program. For adults entering the Drug Court through Pre-Trial Intervention, the State Attorney’s Office will typically consider only first-time, nonviolent, third degree felons.
2. The second way defendants can enter Drug Court is as a condition of probation.
Cases that are not eligible:
However, any defendant can be disqualified from admission into Drug Court if they: have been designated for treatment as a habitual felony offender or violent offender under FPAA guidelines; have been previously convicted of a violent felony offense; have been convicted, regardless of adjudication, of arson; are in violation of conditions of controlled release; are in violation of conditions of parole; have current charge(s) that have resulted in serious personal injury to victim(s); or have a history of sales of controlled substances indicating profiteering.
Drug-Motivated Offenses can be eligible:
Although Drug Court is primarily focused on defendants charged with possession offenses, there may be limited occasions where other types of criminal charges are eligible. These include: Purchase of Drugs; Small sales of drugs where the facts indicate the seller is supporting a habit; Property Crimes or other felonies where the facts indicate the offense was drug related or influenced. Under these circumstances, the assistance of an experienced attorney may be effective in persuading the State Attorney’s Office that although your conduct might typically not warrant drug court participation, your motivation to commit the original offenses, together with your positive attitude toward rehabilitation, otherwise justifies your entry into the drug court program.
How Drug Court Works
The treatment-based approach contained within Drug Court begins with a potential drug court participant receiving a substance abuse assessment by a licensed treatment provider. Our office can assist you in obtaining the assessment. Following this assessment, the provider makes a treatment recommendation to the Court. For the past five years, Circuit Court Judge Deanna Farnell has been the presiding judge in Pinellas County’s drug court division.
The next step in this process takes place when the Judge determines eligibility and makes a formal offer to the defendant, providing him or her with the opportunity to participate in the Drug Court program. If a defendant refuses this offer, their case would then be transferred to another felony division for prosecution. However, when defendants voluntarily choose to enter Drug Court, the judge will order them to complete an appropriate outpatient or residential treatment level as determined by the Court. The Judge’s decision on which form of treatment to impose is made in large part based on the recommendation found within the original substance abuse assessment conducted by the licensed treatment provider.
During a person’s participation in drug court, the judge conducts frequent judicial review hearings and urinalysis testing of participants in order to closely monitor the defendant’s progress in treatment. Based upon a participant’s success or setbacks, the judge will either confer rewards or sanctions. In cases where our client has done well, we may be successful in petitioning the court for an early termination of their drug court supervision. This remedy will not only shorten the period of time that our client participates in drug court, but will also bring their case to a final conclusion without a formal felony conviction.
Factors Used to Determine Your Appropriate Level of Recommended Treatment
It is important to understand that your evaluation is not conducted by a licensed medical doctor or psychiatrist. Likewise, you are not subject to any physical examination, blood testing or urinalysis. Instead, the recommended course of treatment will be ascertained simply from your answers to a series of standardized interview questions. Your appropriate level of care is determined by your honest answers and self-reporting. The following are some common questions or areas of inquiry:
- When did you start using drugs?
- What drugs have you experimented with?
- What is your drug of choice?
- How often do you use drugs? (Frequency and duration)
- When was the last time you used drugs and/or alcohol?
- What percentage of your friends use drugs? (When you were using drugs or currently)
- Has your family been affected by your addiction? How?
- Do you reside with anyone who is currently using drugs?
- Has anyone in your family suffered from addiction or is currently suffering from addiction?
- What is your highest level of education?
- If you did not complete your education, where drugs or alcohol a factor?
- Has your drug use ever resulted in prior legal problems?
- Has your drug use interfered with personal relationships or your employment?
- Have you ever volunteered and/or been court ordered to any level of drug counseling in the past? If so, was it inpatient or outpatient treatment?
- Are you currently in a safe environment?
- How can we help you?
How We Help Insure the Accuracy of a Substance Abuse Evaluation …Taking a Proactive Approach
Retaining a lawyer promptly after your arrest can sometimes help avoid common issues of misunderstanding or miscommunication during the evaluation process. Our lawyers will typically spend a significant period of time with clients to gain an accurate insight into their past and to learn their objectives. We consider our clients’ safety a priority. All of our cases are dealt with on an individual basis. Every case is different and there is a variety of recommendations we might offer. Sometimes, we might suggest your relocation to a stable, safe, or more favorable living environment. Other times, a change of employment may be beneficial. We might suggest, for example that you begin counseling or treatment with a private provider, before your evaluation and/or prior to your first court date. Under some circumstances we may wish to confirm and document your discontinuation of drug use by have having you secure urinalysis results or through your voluntary use of a “SCRAM” ankle bracelet.
Evaluators are obviously able to more accurately formulate the best treatment recommendation if they are armed with relevant information. In this regard, our office often communicates with the evaluator prior to the evaluation. This contact benefits our client by insuring that the evaluator is provided with important facts and circumstances that may have otherwise gone undetected.
What Can be Done if You Receive a Recommendation for Treatment that You Disagree With?
We have found that the treatment providers who conduct these substance abuse evaluations aspire to place clients in the proper level of treatment. In this regard, they are professionals and willing to discuss your clinical recommendation in a collaborative manner. When an attorney makes the evalutor aware of inadvertent errors during the evaluation process or can bring important new information to light, a new or amended counseling / treatment recommendation may be appropriate.
Avoiding State Prison – Despite Your Past Record
Clients with significant prior criminal history records may avoid conviction and incarceration by successfully completing Pinellas County’s Adult Drug Court Program, despite guidelines called for within Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code (The Sentencing Guidelines) that otherwise dictated a mandatory State Prison sentence.
We Can Help
If you are currently facing a criminal charge within Pinellas County that is in some way drug related, you should contact our office for further details regarding this opportunity.
Call our office for a free consultation at (727) 578-0303
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- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
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