Posts Tagged ‘Drug Defense Success’

“Addiction Treatment” – What does that mean for the Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Whether charged with a criminal case in Kane, DuPage, Kendall, DeKalb or any criminal court in any county, when a judge orders someone into drug addiction treatment,  what does “treatment” mean? This is an important consideration for a criminal defense lawyer.

     Criminal defense lawyers should know there are no magic wands to stop drug use, or magic words for that matter. Over the years defending the accused on criminal charges related to drug additiction, I have heard of, and seen in a few clients, a situation in which some dramatic moment occurs in his or her life, and the cycle of drug use suddenly ends. But this is extremely rare. More commonly addicts use and continue to use even in the face of jail or prison time, loss of contact with loved ones including newborn children, loss of work, health, trust, respect and self-respect and, admittedly, in the face of mounting legal fees.

     I’ve experienced a client, after jail, inpatient treatment, an intervention specialist, and incredible family members, use and commit new serious felonies a day after re-entry into a program, losing a significant career, freedom, the opportunity to keep all felonies off his record, and face long-term prison away from a young child. Believe me, after experiencing that one last summer, I was ready to throw my hands in the air and give up on the notion of “treatment.”

     But I can’t. I’ve seen it work, and work often. Besides, the consequences of not trying are clear and deadly.

     As a defense attorney, I always have and will continue to give significant discounts in fees if the voluntary option chosen is treatment. It’s an encouragement, I believe, to help reluctant addicts come up with the courage to face treatment for addiction without force, without sacrificing other choices such as trials and motions that are each person’s constitutional right. This becomes burdensome, but necessary work when a client relapses a second, third, or even more times, and I keep stepping up with the client for minimal or no additional fee. I have to – I know them and their family dynamics too well to stop trying.

     I have asked such people, who have relapsed again, what actually goes on in treatment sessions. What I have learned consists of conversations between therapist and patient that are what you may expect. Discussions intended to scare (usually health, family / work consequences, prison and death). Personal discussions (how did this start, and why). Community discussions (support groups / sponsors). Educational discussions (the truth of addiction, the voice that never goes away completely, but can be made to fade and weaken). Approaches (usually day-at-a-time approaches / 12-step programs / Narcotics Anonymous) so that the patient-addict is not overwhelmed by the major goal to simply “just say no.”

    In an older post I talked about  the incredible success of several of my clients in dealing with addiction. Soon after, sadly, more than half of these persons relapsed, all of them badly. Today, one is lost entirely to long-term prison. A hard, very hard, and sad case. But the others? They’re still in there fighting back. In one case in particular, in Kane County, with incredible help from the Kane Count Rehabilitation Drug Court Team, I got one of my relapsed clients back into inpatient treatment just before the Illinois budget cuts on such treatment occurred (which is another topic for discussion). I simply had to ask each of these clients why they relapsed, yet again, in a court system with prison and other personal consequences hanging over each person’s head.

     What I gathered from each was not so much a failure of the treatment itself, but the fact that they weren’t really listening to the treatment provided. They went into the programs with their minds made up that they would succeed, that the addiction was as good as licked, even before the program started. When talking to those people who made it to the extent of long-term sobriety in which they successfully completed treatment and their probation without re-offending or relapse, I found the common theme from each person as to treatment was as follows: they didn’t know whether they would make it; they didn’t draw any conclusions as to their own success; they feared failure; they had no answers and weren’t even sure of the questions. In conclusion, they were scared.

     It’s interesting that those with fear, at least among the clients I talked to, appeared to have more success reaching sobriety than those who expressed confidence about their success. At least in the world in which I have worked, it wasn’t a lack of motivation on anybody’s part. What seems to have made the difference is the patient’s honest desire to listen to the treatment providers. Those who were scared were more inclined to listen and, more importantly, more likely to follow the treatment provider’s advice. As an example, when the drug addict’s inevitable internal voice to use drugs, to relapse, comes, the scared persons talked about a willingness to immediately call his or her sponsor right away, to work through this building desire to use drugs through conversation, or to actually meet with the sponsor until the desire to use passed. But the confident patients tended to have the go-it-alone, I-can-do-this-without-anybody’s-help approach, thus rejecting treatment’s guidance and coming up with his or her own game plan, usually as to why this just-one-more-time use of the drug can be rationalized; then, since it cannot be rationalized, the use goes full-blown again.

     In a realm such as drug addiction, where a definitive conclusion is dangerous to make, I propose that the question of treatment and what that word means for drug addicts should also focus on the drug addicts themselves. Are they ready for treatment? – is a key question. Moreover – are they willing to listen? And, perhaps most important, are they scared enough to give up all preconceived notions of success so instead they may better absorb what is taught.

     I keep my hopes up for my clients even after relapse. As distasteful as it is, relapse happens, and often does so more than once before recovery is truly obtained. As a criminal defense attorney, I am grateful for this understanding within today’s court system and the drug court system in particular.  

     I’m looking forward to attending a particular drug court graduation ceremony. There’s someone I’m hoping will be there among the other people who have reached meaningful sobriety.

     I have some confidence that this client will make it.

     After all, for the first time in his life, he is scared that he won’t.