What is Drug Court and How Does it Work in GA?

Usually, cases in drug courts are easier to resolve favorably.

If you thought the War on Drugs was over, think again. That is especially true for drug possession offenses. Police officers aggressively enforce these laws, and prosecutors aggressively pursue them in court. So, the fighting continues, but the battleground has changed. Most large counties in Georgia, including Gwinnett County, have designated drug courts. Judges, court staff, and prosecutors in these courts all have special training in this area.

Juror attitudes are also different in drug court. Many jurors equate drug court with juvenile court. In other words, the drug offense is not purely, or mostly, a criminal offense. Instead, to many drug court jurors, these offenses are health and safety issues. A smart Atlanta criminal defense attorney knows how to take advantage of this environment. Since jurors are not as anxious to convict defendants, prosecutors often offer more favorable plea bargain agreements. That is especially true if, as is usually the case, the defendant is a first-time offender who is charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony.

Defense Issues

The first issue in a criminal defense matter, and maybe the most important issue, is whether the charges hold up in court. Drug possession cases, which were mentioned above, are a good example. At trial, prosecutors must establish all three elements of possession in court, which are:

Assume Janice is at a party. She only knows a few people. Police, acting on an informer's tip, raid the party looking for illegal drugs. Janice has the misfortune of sitting on a couch that has drugs concealed under the cushions.

Officers would almost certainly arrest Janice for possession. However, under these facts, the charges might not hold up in court. Proximity is not an issue. Control probably is not an issue either. Knowledge, however, is a major issue. Prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Janice knew there were drugs in the sofa. If she knew there was “something illegal” in the sofa, that is probably not good enough.

We should probably talk about the informer’s tip as well. These arrests often involve procedural issues. Most non-officer tipsters receive money or leniency in exchange for their cooperation. Since many people will say almost anything for love or money, such tips are often unreliable.

Procedural defenses also often affect large drug trafficking investigations. Multiple agencies usually pitch in. As the old saying goes, too many chefs spoil the broth. Competing agencies have competing agendas. Furthermore, Agency A may assume that Agency B obtained a search warrant or fulfilled another procedural requirement when, in fact, that did not happen.

Procedural Issues

As mentioned, many jurors see drug court cases as health and safety matters. This attitude often extends to prosecutors. Therefore, prosecutors are often willing to offer pretrial diversion in drug cases that normally would not qualify for these programs in other criminal courts.

Program requirements vary in different courts. Generally, if defendants obtain help for substance abuse and clear a few other hurdles, such as a community service requirement, prosecutors will dismiss the charges. This dismissal may also qualify for record restriction or expungement. Georgia’s laws in this area are quite complex.

Not all procedural issues are good news. For example, designated drug courts often have smaller dockets. So, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney may be unable to delay the case. Delay is a major ally, especially in possession cases. With every day that passes, witness memories fade, and the chances that the evidence will be lost increase.

Reach Out to a Seasoned Gwinnett County Drug Charge Defense Lawyer

Drug courts have advantages for defendants. For a free consultation with an experienced Norcross criminal defense lawyer, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law.