Articles Posted in Drug Cases

A large part of my firm’s criminal practice focuses upon representing criminal defendants with substance abuse issues.  These defendants are typically addicted to cocaine or heroin.  Many of these clients are simultaneously addicted to numerous substances (typically referred to as poly-substances abusers).  These clients present special challenges that must be met if they are to obtain the best possible result in their cases.

It may sound overly simplistic, but attorneys representing drug-addicted defendants need to remember that their status as addicts goes hand-in-glove with their criminal charge(s), and their addiction issues will affect every aspect of the case.  For example, most addicts have great difficulty taking personal responsibility for their actions.  As far as they are concerned, few, if any, of the circumstances that led to their current criminal charges can be attributed to their conduct; rather, it is almost certainly the fault of someone or something else.  Further, addicts have a propensity to not tell the truth.  The defense attorney must be very careful in accepting as true anything that their client tells them about the facts and circumstances that led to the current criminal charges.  Additionally, these clients can also be very irresponsible.  They frequently miss court dates, as well as appointments with treatment providers or probation officers.  Such conduct can result in the denial of admission to a diversionary program, or a violation of probation.  Finally, most criminal judges – particularly those who sit in courts that see a significant number of drug addicted defendants will – almost as a knee-jerk reaction – refuse to view these defendants as credible in any way.  Getting a judge to believe your client about almost anything can be difficult without something to corroborate it.  However, the client can sometimes benefit from their attorney’s credibility with the court.

Many States, including New Jersey, have drug court programs.  These are diversionary programs which focus upon providing treatment in lieu of penal sanctions.  They are staffed by people who have special training and experience in working with addicts.  Generally speaking, a defendant has to have a serious addiction issue and a relatively minimal criminal background to be accepted into the program. (An offender with a record of violent offenses or sex offenses will have hard time finding an in-patient program that will accept them.)  The drug court program is, however, difficult to complete.  Clients have to be committed, focused, and willing to work hard in order to graduate successfully from drug court.  I have encountered drug addicted clients who would rather accept a county jail or State prison sentence rather than have their case diverted to drug court because they believe the former is easy while the latter is, relatively speaking, too difficult. Continue reading ›

We have known for some time that the United States incarcerates more people than any other industrialized nation on the planet.  The federal prison system, which has grown approximately 700% since 1980, currently holds about 216,000 inmates.  Additionally, states, counties and municipalities each have their own prison systems.  It is estimated that approximately 25% of the world’s convicts are held in US prisons.

The sheer number of incarcerated inmates is only one issue.  In prison, inmate numbers translate into dollars quickly.  The current annual maintenance cost of the federal prison system alone is approximately $74 Billion.  State and local governments also have substantial budgets for their own prison systems and facilities.  For example, a recent study estimated that the New York City prison system spends approximately $168,000 per inmate each year.  This sum is considerably larger than the annual income of many American households.  Further, recidivism rates suggest strongly that a significant amount of these resources are wasted.  Some of the most recent data available show that approximately 70% of released inmates are re-arrested within three years of release.  Thus, in many cases, incarceration briefly removes someone from society, but does not necessarily address the long-term problems and issues that caused them to engage in criminal conduct.  Finally, most US offenders are incarcerated for narcotics-related offenses.

Against this backdrop, Attorney General Eric Holder is backing a broad-based effort to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum federal prison sentences for many drug offenders.  Holder’s argument is simple.  He wants to reduce federal prison spending and re-focus prison resources on more violent offenders.  His critics respond by saying, among other things, that mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders aid in the enforcement of our narcotics laws by pressuring “smaller” defendants to cooperate with police and prosecutors in their efforts to move against larger suspects and targets. Continue reading ›

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