Substance Abuse Treatment for Defendants Facing Drug and Other Charges

Getting help can help your case—and you.

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Many people facing criminal charges get into treatment of some kind because they think it will look good in the eyes of the prosecution or judge. But is it a good idea?

By and large, yes. In fact, even if the charges don’t relate directly to drug or alcohol abuse, substance abuse treatment may be very helpful. For example, someone who robs a convenience store while high or in order to feed a drug habit is probably well advised to seek help. And even someone who gets into trouble because of an issue other than substance abuse can benefit from quickly getting into treatment—for instance, a person who got into a fistfight and suffers from anger management issues or PTSD.

Short- and Long-term Help

Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and even more demanding ones, including those at inpatient facilities, often serve defendants well while charges are pending. (They may even become a condition of an eventual probation sentence or part of a diversion program.) A prosecutor who sees that a defendant is trying to take responsibility for substance abuse issues may welcome the effort to get on the straight and narrow. The same goes for a judge who is weighing a sentence.

But getting into treatment is just as valuable for a defendant’s own, internal purposes as it is for the image it projects. Defendants frequently get into treatment—whether for substance abuse or mental health—for the first time only after they’ve had a brush with the law. Even if it’s not their first time in treatment, professional help can keep them out of trouble down the road—not to mention make them happier. It’s a long-term investment that can be hard to appreciate while staring at the immediacy of a criminal case, but one that has huge payoffs.

Using Your Lawyer

Of course, whether you should get into treatment is an issue you should discuss with your lawyer. Your attorney can advise you as to the best course of action and probably has helpful referrals and connections. In addition, he or she can coordinate with treatment professionals and prepare a presentation for the prosecution or the court that highlights your efforts to get better. Indeed, at a sentencing hearing, the testimony of a substance abuse counselor or mental health professional may go a long way.

Oftentimes getting into treatment is valuable even for defendants who plan on going to trial. (But defendants in this situation should consult their lawyers as soon as possible to confirm that a record of treatment won’t interfere with a trial defense.) Treatment has both the ability to help in sentencing should you lose at trial and the lasting potential of improving your life.

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