As of the 26 May 2021 the Drug Court will be made available in the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne. This will allow the County Court of Victoria to make what is a called a Drug Treatment Order (‘DTO’), where a person is sentenced to a term of imprisonment but is allowed to serve that term in the community.
Drug Court first started in Victoria in the early 2000s and was started as a pilot program at the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court. It then expanded into the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court a number of years ago. Recently, it has become available in the more serious County Court jurisdiction for the first time. Marshall Jovanovska Ralph Criminal Lawyers has had many years experience helping clients into the Drug Court program and we are excited to see it in the County Court jurisdiction.
What is Drug Court? Am I eligible for Drug Court?
A Drug Court order is a commitment to the court and to the community to work towards sobriety. You need to speak to your lawyer as to whether Drug Court is suitable for your case and for you. It involves a plea of guilty to some or all of the charges (as negotiated with the Crown) that you are facing. In the County Court of Victoria you can only be assessed for a DTO provided the offending will not attract imprisonment of more than four (4) years, does not inflict actual bodily harm on someone and is not a sexual offence; as per s 18Z of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic). Further, there must also be a link between the offending that you are pleading guilty to and the use of drugs and/or alcohol. There are some additional criteria that involve eligibility depending on where you usually live, however it is best to talk to your lawyer about this.
If you have serious criminal convictions and many pages of priors you will not necessarily be turned away from Drug Court. The program is designed to treat people who have otherwise ‘fallen through the cracks’ and keep offending due to their addiction to drugs. Often this involves people who are homeless, have intense addiction to drugs, are victims of crimes themselves or have simply gone down the wrong path.
To gain an idea of what Drug Court is about, we recommend watching this short video which talks about the Drug Court in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court presented by his Honour Magistrate Parsons.
Further, if you want to hear partner Felix Ralph talk on 3CR Community Radio, you can listen to him here 40 minutes into this radio show.
Should I go into Drug Court?
A person who is thinking about entering into a DTO has some important decisions to make with their lawyer. Is the case suitable to be resolved as a plea of guilty or do you have a defence? Do you meet the eligibility criteria for a DTO? What are the advantages of Drug Court? What are the disadvantages? Are you ready for the Drug Court process?
The reason why these decisions need to be carefully considered is that a DTO is a significant commitment in time and effort. It involves regular drug tests, appointments with case workers, meeting with the judge once per week and a sophisticated system that is designed to improve accountability. If you further offend or you fail to take advantage of the DTO then your order can be cancelled you will serve the remainder of the sentence in prison.
Drug Court can take years (even if you go well) of hard work and persistence. The benefit to this is that people can often maintain their sobriety and go on to live peaceful and productive lives free from drugs and prison time.
Where to from here?
It’s important to make sure that you receive the proper advice before you decide to pursue Drug Court. Our lawyers have operated in Drug Courts over many years and are experienced in the type of considerations that need to be balanced and weighed before going into Drug Court.
One of the biggest decisions is to try and determine (a) whether you are eligible (b) whether there should be a guilty plea in your case. These decisions should not be made lightly and should be made in close consultation with your lawyer.