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Understanding Alachua County’s Drug Court Program

Posted by on in Florida Criminal Law
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The Alachua County Drug Court program is a supervision and treatment program serving nonviolent felony offenders whose criminal allegations are related to drug or alcohol addiction. Alachua County’s Drug Court Program has been operating since 1993 and was one of the first fully functional programs in the State of Florida.  It’s offices are located at 249 W. University Ave. (Rear Entrance) Gainesville, Florida.

Eligibility Requirements

Drug Court participation is limited to individuals charged with felony drug possession or a nonviolent felony property crime related to the offenders drug or alcohol addiction.  Sale of a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute charges are eligible only at the discretion of the Assistant State Attorney assigned to prosecute the case and require the approval of the Chief Assistant State Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit.  The Alachua County Drug Court Program will not accept defendants who have a history of felony violence, or a significant  number of violent misdemeanor convictions.  Additionally, participants may not be on active felony supervised probation or misdemeanor supervised probation out of another jurisdiction while they participate in the Alachua County Drug Court Program.

Criminal defense attorneys who are well versed in the intricacies and eligibility requirements of Alachua County’s Drug Court Program can provide significant assistance in gaining admittance to this unique treatment alternative.    

Pretrial and Post Conviction Alternatives

Alachua County’s Drug Court program has both a pretrial diversion track, which results in the criminal case being dismissed upon successful completion of the program, and a post conviction track, which requires the offender to have entered a plea of guilty or no contest to the criminal charges prior to entry into the program.  Post Conviction participants who successfully complete the program will have their criminal cases closed without the imposition of a jail sentence or other punishment.  The extent of an individual's prior criminal history determines which track a potential participant may be eligible for.  The program typically lasts a minimum of twelve to fourteen months.   Click here to see Drug Court Rules of Participation.

Drug Court Program Requirements

Alachua County’s Drug Court program is comprised of three phases. The first phase is a minimum of one month in length, and requires three consecutive weeks of sobriety in order to progress to the next phase. Click here to read the requirements in Phase I.  Daily attendance each week day morning is mandatory and status court hearings are held on a weekly basis during phase one of the program.  Click here to see Phase I schedule.   The second phase is a minimum of ninety days in length with a requirement of 90 consecutive days of sobriety to progress to the next phase. Attendance during the second phase is required three times per week, plus court status hearings twice a month.  If a participant is working or in school, he/she may request to attend evening group sessions.   Phase 3 is also 90 days long, with a requirement of a minimum of the last 90 days of sobriety to graduate.  Attendance of  at least one evening group session per week and one court status hearing per month is required during the third and final phase.

While drug court participants are permitted to ingest medication legitimately prescribed by a licensed physician who is fully informed about the participant’s addiction, they are not permitted to ingest alcohol or other drugs.   Frequent and persistent drug testing of participants is an integral part of Alachua County’s Drug Court program.  There is no punishment for a dirty urine screen, but a consequence of relapse is the extra time required to progress to the next phase and an increase in the intensity of the drug treatment protocol required of the participant.  A participant who continues to use drugs may be required to successfully participate in an intensive out patient drug treatment program (IOP) or a residential drug treatment program in order to graduate from the program.  

Higher risk clients are given more intensive treatment and a higher level of supervision.  Some participants with extensive addiction histories (particularly intravenous drug users) may be required to immediately participate in an intensive outpatient program or enter a residential treatment program upon entry into the program.

Alachua County's Drug Court is a serious treatment and rehabilitation program.  Defendant's who are considering participation in this program should be fully committed to addressing their addiction issues.  This program should not be considered an "easy" way to avoid punishment or get one's drug possession charges dismissed.  For those that are truly committed to rehabilitation, the program offers a genuine opportunity to address a potential participant's drug addiction or chronic drug abuse, while at the same time affording an opportunity to avoid the punishment oriented criminal "justice" system.

Drug Court Fees

There is a weekly fee of twenty dollars ($20.00) payable by money order to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners throughout the duration of the program.  Indigent clients may perform two (2) hours of approved community service work each week in lieu of the cash payment. Clients who transfer in from other jurisdictions are charged forty-five ($45.00) per week, and may also perform community service hours (4.5 hours) in lieu of cash payment.

Sanctions for Program Rule Violations

Graduated sanctions are available and used by the Drug Court Program for incidences of rule non-compliance that do not warrant termination from the program.  Sanctions include term-certain incarceration (usually in increments of 24 hour periods), community service work, and additional activities. Termination from the program resulting in the reinstatement of prosecution or the imposition of a sentence of incarceration for post plea participants is an option for serious breaches of program rules.  Click here to see Schedule of Recommended Drug Court Sanctions.

The penalty for tampering with a urine sample or otherwise attempting to "cheat" on a urine test is expulsion from the program - no exceptions.  New law violations typically result in removal from the program, depending on the nature and severity of the law violation.  Aggressive, threatening or violent behavior directed at program staff or program participants will also result in removal from the program, even if the behavior may not technically be a law violation.  Participants who repeatedly fail to actively participate in good faith in their recommended drug treatment plans will also be terminated from the program.  Participants who fail to successfully complete drug court will be returned to the traditional “criminal justice” system where punishment is the primary goal.

Contact a Gainesville Criminal Defense Attorney at DeThomasis & Buchanan if you are charged with a crime in Alachua County and wish to explore participation in Alachua County's Drug Court Program.

Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.