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Centre County Considering Creation of Drug Court

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According to an article in the Centre Daily Times, Centre County is considering the creation of a Drug Court to address the growing number of drug cases going through the Bellefonte court system. Centre County's DUI Court, the first rehabilitative court in the county, has primarily been a success in rehabilitating many repeat drunk driving offenders. Under these court programs, a participant often receives a slightly less severe criminal sentence but is subject to substantially increased treatment requirements. For example, the DUI Court was originally only used for third time driving under the influence offenders that were facing a 1 year mandatory minimum sentence. Such offenders would normally spend the entire year in a prison with work release eligibility. A participant in DUI Court spends the first 3 months in jail, followed by 9 months on the in-home  detention ankle bracelet monitoring system, followed by 6 months on an anti-drinking bracelet called SCRAM. A normal DUI offender is required to complete a counseling program, but such programs are not overly aggressive. With DUI Court, participants are required to attend Intensive Outpatient (IOP) counseling, which often meets at least 2 to 3 times a week, attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions on a daily basis for 90 days, and appear in court before a judge every two weeks. Rehabilitative courts do not cure all participants, but they are effective in helping many people and reducing recidivism.

Centre County Drug Court

Centre County could benefit from having a Drug Court. A recent string of burglaries in State College are related to a heroin addiction by the defendants. People that are addicted to hard drugs like crack and heroin often cannot afford to pay for the drugs and thereby resort to stealing, robbing, and burglarizing homes to get money to feed their drug habit. Such people will not stop breaking the law until the drug addiction is treated. A drug court can definitively help such people.

A drug court could also be used to rehabilitate Penn State students that are charged with dealing marijuana to one another. Many Penn State students learn the hard way that selling marijuana is a felony offense in Pennsylvania, and felony drug charges occurring near campus often results in application of a 2 year mandatory minimum sentence commonly called the "drug-free school zone." The drug-free school zone and drug mandatory sentences have been held unconstitutional by some Pennsylvania courts, but they have not been held unconstitutional in Centre County. Even if a marijuana dealer is not facing mandatory minimum sentences, the person still does not want a felony conviction on his or her record.

In talking to Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers, delivery and possession with intent to deliver cases involving relatively small amounts of marijuana are resolved via a drug court program that allows for the dismissal and expungement of charges. Centre County should have a similar program that would require participants to complete a substantial amount of community service, pay costs of the program, complete counseling, and be subjected to routine drug testing. The program could be modeled after the Centre County ARD program. As a State College criminal defense attorney, I have represented many Penn State students that would love to have such a program available. Sending such kids to jail and giving them a felony criminal record does nothing to promote the goal of rehabilitation. A Centre County drug court could go a long way to rehabilitating some people charged with felony drug offenses.

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