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By Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer

One of the most frequent questions asked by those accused of drug offences is, “Should I go into drug treatment court?” While each case is unique and each client’s need are specific to their case, this article will attempt to answer some common questions about drug treatment court to help decide if it is something that will benefit someone accused of a drug offence.  Those questions include: “What is drug treatment court?”, “Am I eligible?”, “What is the difference between drug treatment court and regular court?” and “How does an accused sign up for drug treatment court?”

What is Drug Treatment Court?

The most important thing to know about drug treatment court  is that if you graduate, you are guaranteed a sentence other than imprisonment. In other words, you will not go to jail from drug treatment court unless you break the rules of the drug treatment court.

Drug treatment courts began as a response to large numbers of offenders being incarcerated for drug offences and high recidivism rates (frequent re-offending) of those persons due to their underlying drug dependency (See The impact of Addiction on Sentencing).

In 1998, after the 1996 sentencing reforms of Bill C-41, the first drug treatment court was established in Toronto.

Are You Eligible for Drug Treatment Court?

While drug treatment courts have a particular focus on aboriginal offenders and street prostitutes because recidivism among those groups are exceptionally high in the regular court system, when drug addiction is involved, these are not required for admission into drug treatment court.  Drug treatment court is reserved for non-violent offenders who have a drug or alcohol addiction. Drug treatment court is only available to those offenders who plead guilty to offences that do not carry a mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration  (See Mandatory minimum penalties for drug offences).

In Toronto, an offender is NOT eligible if the offence was:

  • trafficking for commercial gain,
  • impaired driving,
  • involved risk to young people, or
  • was a residential break and enter.

An offender is typically not eligible where the offender:

  • has a recent and/or significant history of violence,
  • was serving a conditional or intermittent sentence, or
  • previously graduated from the Toronto drug treatment court.

Drug treatment court is often utilized by offenders who have a long record of drug possession and minor theft offences who have been sentenced to jail for those offences who want to change their lives and not return to jail.

What is the Difference Between Drug Treatment Court and Regular Court?

Drug treatment courts are an attempt to break the cycle of drug use and crime. Unlike in regular court, drug treatment court require some form of organized drug treatment and random urine testing component, multiple appearances after a guilty plea so that the sentencing judge can monitor the offender’s progress, as well as social services support. Also, in regular court, there is never a guarantee that an offender will not be sentenced to jail.

Statistically, recidivism rates for those who complete drug treatment court are lower than those for the regular court system.

How Does an Accused Apply to Drug Treatment Court?

Candidates for drug treatment court are either self-identified or identified by justice participants, whether it’s police, a judge, probation officer, the prosecution or defence.  Drug treatment court is voluntary.  A person must sign a waiver agreeing to be bound by the terms of drug treatment court, plead guilty and immediately begin counselling.  There is a formal period (usually 30 days) where an offender can easily choose to re-enter the normal court program and after that, an offender must make an application to the court.

Is Drug Treatment Court a Good Idea?

As with any decision in the criminal justice system, it is a good idea to make these decisions in consultation with an experienced drug offences lawyer.  A lawyer will help you determine if you have any valid defences and what your sentence is likely to be in the regular court system.  So whether drug treatment court is preferable for you is a decision best made after you are informed by the advice of your lawyer.