Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Defendants Can Be Jailed for Relapsing During Drug Treatment, Court Rules

Court Rules

The top Massachusetts court unanimously ruled on Monday that a judge can require defendants with substance use disorders to stay drug-free as a condition of probation and send them to jail if they relapse.

The case, which challenged a requirement routinely imposed by judges across the country had been closely watched by prosecutors, drug courts, and addiction medicine specialists.

For many, it represented a debate over the character of addiction itself.

The defense argued that addiction may be a chronic, relapsing brain disorder that compromises an individual’s ability to abstain.

The prosecution maintained that addiction varies in intensity which many individuals have the power to beat it and maybe influenced by institutional penalties and rewards, like incarceration or a cleared criminal record.

While acknowledging the various experts who weighed in on all sides, the seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declined to require a stance within the debate.

Instead, they said, the defendant within the case should have raised the difficulty when her probation condition was first imposed, when it could are fully argued before a trial judge.

Justice David A. Lowy wrote that a judge has the facility and discretion to work out probation requirements tailored to a private which further probation’s twin goals:

rehabilitation and public safety. Judges, he said, “stand on the front lines of the opioid epidemic” and are “faced with difficult decisions that are especially unpalatable.”

The challenge was brought by Julie A. Eldred, now 30, who had been convicted of larceny for stealing jewelry to support her heroin habit.

In August 2016, a neighborhood judge gave her a year’s probation, facing up to a 30-month sentence for violating conditions.

The judge ordered her to start outpatient treatment and remain drug-free. Ms. Eldred enrolled in a program and commenced taking Suboxone, a medicine that will reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal.

Shortly afterward, she relapsed and, she said, returned to her doctor for help, posing for a stronger dose of Suboxone.

Eleven days after her probation began, Ms. Eldred tested positive for fentanyl. The judge ordered her to travel to inpatient treatment, but no placement could immediately be found.

What should be through with her? it had been the start of Labor Day weekend, and Ms. Eldred’s parents were out of town.

“The judge was faced with either releasing the defendant and risking that she would suffer an overdose and die or holding her in custody until a placement at an inpatient treatment facility became available,” Justice Lowy wrote, within the decision handed down Monday.

During the ten days, she was in a medium-security prison, Ms. Eldred went through withdrawal. Suboxone wasn't prescribed.

Lisa Newman-Polk, one of Ms. Eldred’s lawyers, called Monday’s decision a “massive blow” and said that the court had missed a chance to include a mainstream medical opinion about addiction.

She said the court had “rubber-stamped the status quo, dysfunctional way during which our criminal justice system treats people affected by addiction.”

Ms. Eldred’s lawyers had argued that sending someone with a severe substance use disorder to jail for relapsing amounted to cruel and weird punishment — that she had been sanctioned for her illness.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office disagreed, saying that a lot of successful treatment models believe in a person’s ability to abstain.

Because Ms. Eldred committed a criminal offense to support her drug habit and her addiction was active, prosecutors said, the judge also had an obligation to guard the general public against the likelihood that she might commit another crime.

“We are pleased the Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed a court’s ability to require an individualized approach to probation that encourages recovery and rehabilitation to assist probationers to avoid further incarceration,” said a spokeswoman for Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general.

But Fiona Doherty, a clinical professor of law at Yale school of law and an expert on probation, said that because the court didn't take an edge on addiction, the case was only a professional win for the prosecution, confined to Ms. Eldred’s circumstances and timing.

“The impact of substance use disorder and a defendant’s ability to stop relapse remains open,” she said.

“There is a large amount of room for lawyers and defendants to remount a challenge to an equivalent drug-free condition. they will object at the time the condition is imposed and seek a full hearing on the science.”

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