Addiction and the Law

FAQ’s:  I’ve been charged with a crime and the Judge asked me if I have a drug problem. What should I say?

The Criminal Justice System has slowly recognized the role that drug addiction and abuse plays in public safety and the benefits of treatment programs to prevent crime.  If you are asked about drug and alcohol issues after your arrest, it may be best to wait to discuss the significance of this with an attorney before disclosing any concerns you may have to the Court. Here’s why.

More about drug court and what it means.

In 1989, the Miami-Dade County Court system created the first known “Drug Court”, a new approach to defendants with addiction issues.  It was founded upon the theory that it is addiction that causes some to break the law and that once a person prevails over drug addiction, they will have a better chance at remaining a productive member of society.  Studies have shown the approach to be effective.  People that go through a drug treatment court program are less likely to commit another crime and even those that fail out of the program are less likely to be arrested.  These programs also appear to slow the pace of arrests in a defendant’s life.  On average an individual that has engaged in a treatment program will commit less than half as many new crimes in the twelve months following their discharge from a program.

New York State adopted the Drug Treatment Court model in the 1990’s.  Today, there are drug treatment courts in every city and most of the larger towns and villages across the state.  Results vary, and the system is far from perfect, but this approach provides a person charged with a crime with an opportunity to treat their addiction in nearly any type of criminal case.

If you have been charged with a crime and you believe that your use of drugs or alcohol played a role in your behavior, it’s obvious that treatment is appropriate, but it’s important to be wise in your approach to addressing the problem.  The Drug Court program can be intensive and lengthy, many people view participation in the drug court program as a full time job that requires attendance at multiple meetings each day, and hours in attendance at court proceedings.  While most Drug Courts accept that relapses are common and should be viewed as a part of the treatment process, it is common for Judges to administer sanctions such as incarceration when a defendant suffers a set back in treatment.


Before you commit to a Drug Court program, it is important to have a qualified attorney review your case to make certain your rights are protected.  No attorney will advise you to avoid treatment, but it may be more appropriate to seek treatment outside of the Court system if there are issues that make the case against you less likely to result in a conviction.  In order to enter a Drug Court, most prosecutors will require a defendant to admit they are guilty, which opens them up to the possibility of a severe sentence, sometimes far more severe than if they had not entered a drug court at all.

In addition to reviewing the case against you, it will be important to take time to consider whether you are truly ready to get well.  Some treatment experts believe that a person must reach a low point in their lives before they have the ability to commit to getting better.  Other experts have argued that this is a fallacy and that a patient’s level of commitment is not as important as once believed, particularly in a setting where treatment is made mandatory by a Court.

The bottom line is this: if you think you have a problem, you should talk to your attorney about your treatment options.  An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to provide you with every option for treatment, whether it means participating in a Court mandated program, or engaging in treatment on your own.

James Quinn Auricchio, Esq. is an attorney who focuses on Criminal Defense in State and Federal Courts in Western New York. He can be reached at 716.941.4336.