Many counties in Washington State run what are known as drug courts. These courts combine the resources of the justice system with drug and alcohol treatment and other community service programs to help those that suffer from substance abuse to address their problems. These courts have gained steam nationwide, as the criminal justice system has slowly recognized that, in some cases, addicts need more help than they need punishment.
Drug Courts work by acting as a sort of support group for those charged with the drug crime. Before a hearing, the Court holds a closed meeting to discuss each participant's progress. These meetings include the Drug Court judge, attorneys for the state and defendant, and treatment professionals. The participants are not present.
After these meetings, a review is held in open court where the judge discusses the issues from the meeting with the participant, gets their input, and then decides the next steps for the participant.
Although they are relatively new, studies show that drug courts work. Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates are not arrested within two years after completing the program. Studies also show that Drug Courts reduce crime more than 45% more than standard sentencing options.
The Courts are a good investment too. Drug Court programs often replace jail time, either for a current charge or a future one. Nationwide, for every $1 spent on Drug Court, taxpayers save $3.36 in criminal justice costs alone.
Our Supreme Court recently dealt with an issue that is highly relevant to the future of these successful courts. Article I, Section 10 of the Washington Constitution states that “Justice in all cases shall be administered openly, and without unnecessary delay.” Does this mean that drug-court staff meetings must be administered openly? Their response: only if the Drug Court decides to do so.
In so deciding, the Court relied more on experience and logic than the law. Drug Courts were most closely analogized to conferences held under CR 16 or CrR 4.5(c)(v), which occur off of the record and allow the trial court, along with the attorneys, to simplify the issues and factual disputes in order to streamline the trial process. These conferences need not be open to the public, but they can also not result in a binding order on a contested issue.
This is similar to these conferences because, while possible steps are discussed, nothing is finalized until the defendant has an opportunity to provide input in open court.
This is a terrific result for those criminal defendants that are eligible for Drug Court. The programs rely heavily on collaboration between the various staff members of the court. Forcing them to deliberate in public may significantly alter their collaborative abilities. Even if the legal decision is not rooted in caselaw—as the dissent points out—it is probably the right one from a policy perspective.
If you have been charged with a crime in and around Seattle, including in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, you need someone that will work to protect your rights. Attorney Kevin Trombold has decades of experience fighting for his clients at every step of the criminal justice process. Do not hesitate to contact him today for a free consultation.