Drug Charges / First Time Criminal Charge Offenders, non-violent charges- What to do? Often, sadly, it depends on the County.

As a criminal defense attorney and drug defense lawyer, I was handling a client’s criminal charge – a cannabis case, at a sentencing hearing out in Kendall County (Oswego) a short time ago when an experienced felony prosecutor hinted that perhaps the criminal defense lawyer (which would be me) was ineffective for not making an application on the criminal charges  to the TASC program. That accusation made this criminal defense attorney nearly fall out of my legal briefs, especially since it was being made in Kendall County.

     In Kendall county, there is no Drug Court program for drug addicts and their drug charges or drug addiction related criminal charges, despite the push for such drug treatment courts state and nation wide, and there is no Second Chance program for first-time offenders charged with criminal cases in Kendall County, also despite the push for one.

     Regarding the criminal drug charge discussed at the start here, when it came time to respond to the State’s argument before the Judge on behalf of my client, I pointed out that had my client’s drug charge, marijuana possession, been in Kane County, DeKalb County, DuPage County, Cook county, and all those counties near and around Kendall county, my client would have been offered and would have taken a Drug Court program. But instead he had the misfortune of tripping over Kendall County’s borders with his cannabis charge, where no such program exists despite proven effectiveness. Further, that if the TASC program (a drug counseling program pre-dating drug courts) had been so successful on its own, then why was there a need for the State Legislature of Illinois to create Drug Courts? Even worse, the State here wouldn’t offer TASC in the first place. Rather I had on my own directed my client some time before, and the client had wisely accepted the need, to attend Aurora Il’s Breaking Free program, and I had asked the client to call me every week on his progress. Fortunately, the client followed through and was able to present a good report from Aurora’s Breaking Free program. As a result, regarding the drug charges, again, cannabis, the Judge, who was quite familiar with Kane County’s successful drug court, sentenced my client to probation instead of the 3 years the Kendall county prosecutor had asked for – at about $24,000 tax payer dollars a year – for cannabis possession!

        Why Kendall county does not have a Drug Court is unfathomable, just by the example given above. At present, the Kane County Drug Court does a fantastic job. Attorneys, both private and public defenders, are made welcome at their staff meetings. The members of the staff listen, allow the attorneys to present our concerns and options. Kane County in particular has come up with creative options. Recently, two of my clients, who were failing, were given creative choices, and both are doing quite well now, although of course only time will tell. Kane County’s Drug Court staff, and its Judge, go out of their way to advocate for the result we all want – recovery from addiction. The Kane County Drug Court Judge and staff continue to hone their approach by furthering their knowledge through effective seminars and hands-on approaches and new techniques. Although I have less experience with DeKalb’s and DuPage Counties’ Drug Courts, I know enough to see the care involved. I have success stories in all three counties, and, sadly, some failures, but the effort is truly there. Kendall County? – well, their policy requires me to be creative as a criminal defense lawyer, and thankfully the judges understand treatment as being preferred over incarceration. The fact that Drug Court programs provide close supervision, require the probationer to report often for drug tests and updates, and be active in their own recovery at all times – you’d think Drug Courts would be right up Kendall County’s generally tough attitude toward addicted criminal defendants.

     A similar situation arises when dealing with first time offenders of non-violent crimes. Kane County had the highly effective Pre-Trial Diversion Program when I became an assistant public defender there in 1987, and later developed under expert hands into the Second Chance Program. DeKalb County has followed suit in its own way, and now DuPage County is looking into it in all earnest. Kendall County – not even on the radar screen despite requests to check out Kane County’s high success rate. And why is that? Let’s face it – we all can make a serious mistake, even a criminal mistake, once in our lives. And if it is a non-violent event by a first-timer, is it really in anyone’s best interest to weigh that type of person down with a criminal conviction for the rest of his or her life?

     Under the Second Chance concept, victims get restitution nearly right away in most cases. The accused, to be accepted into the program, must undergo scrutiny by members of society, and truly face remorse and make his or her apologies. Costs to the court system and the overload of cases and charges are lowered even as the accused gives to society by performing 100 to 200 community services hours at approved and monitored locations. If successful, after one to two years in the program, the accused sees his or her charge dismissed and becomes eligible for expungement of criminal charges right away. If the person messes up again – there is no second bite at the Second Chance program.

     So where is the down-side, Kendall County, whether it’s the victim, the accused, or society? Well, there isn’t one. The Second Chance program over the years has saved many of my clients’ college careers, and so many have gone on to do wonderful things with their lives, including heading charitable organizations and bringing relief to the impoverished in other countries as well as in the US. I would ask the leadership of Kendall County’s State’s Attorney’s Office – even outside the realm of criminal behavior, haven’t we all done something that has deeply disappointed a friend, colleague, or loved one in which we received a second chance to prove we were sorry?

     To first-time, non-violent offenders, and to the drug addict, as well as to their loved ones, you can see that where a crime happens is often more important than anything else in terms of your options. I hope that the example of the Kane County Drug Court, and its Second Chance program, and the Drug Courts in DuPage, DeKalb, Cook, and other counties, as well as their second chance programs, persuade Kendall County leadership to change their collective mind on this. After all – many of us have children who may, no matter how hard we try as parents to do right by our kids, while growing up through their teen years and early 20s, may make a mistake of a criminal nature, or be in need of fighting off an addiction.  

     Whose policies would you want your own children subjected to? Just a thought, Kendall County. The right answer is obvious.

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