Our View....Drug, DWI specialty courts should be crafted with careNews that the Sixth Judicial District may create new “specialty” drug and felony-DWI courts for Carlton County had been met with mixed feelings.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
News that the Sixth Judicial District may create new “specialty” drug and felony-DWI courts for Carlton County had been met with mixed feelings.
Theresa Bobula, the Sixth District drug coordinator for St. Louis County, explained the specialty courts are highly structured programs that utilize a treatment-based approach coupled with intensive supervision and judicial oversight in lieu of incarceration for non-violent chemically dependent offenders. Participants are mandated to spend a minimum of one year of documented sobriety in the program, she said.
When you look at the massive numbers of felony drug and DWI cases that cram the court calendar at the Carlton County Courthouse, it seems like a no brainer.
Talk to some in law enforcement, however, and the verdict is less certain, mostly because of fears that the new specialty courts will offer even fewer consequences in a court system that already gives offenders multiple opportunities when they violate conditions of probation.
We aren’t arguing that treatment is a better idea than incarceration, especially for first-time offenders. More face-time with probation officers and other officials, more random testing and better access to treatment and support systems are all wonderful ideas.
We do have a few questions/suggestions however:
+ Drug court should not be an option for those who deal drugs. People with third- and fourth-degree drug charges are, by definition of their charges, in possession of a greater amount of drugs. Let them go through the usual court system and save the drug court for fifth-degree felony drug offenders who likely have a better chance at success without being locked up.
+ Consider carefully the time commitment of such a court. Although both Carlton County judges — Judge Robert Macaulay and Judge Dale Wolf — have expressed support for the concept of the specialty courts, we wonder where they will find the time. We also wonder how an already over-burdened probation department will cope. Granted, the regular court dockets will be lighter if you take out all the fifth-degree drug and felony-DWI charges, but the specialty courts are supposed to be more time intensive for everyone involved.
+ In order to work, there must be adequate resources. People who serve on the court committees need to have the time to do it properly.
+ It’s a privilege to go to such specialty courts. Offenders who don’t appreciate that and who violate the conditions of their parole by testing positive for whatever substance they are supposed to avoid should not get multiple chances. They’re already getting a chance by being deferred to the specialty court.
On Page A2 in this week’s Pine Journal, we are offered a cautionary tale. In 2011, Alex Belich had been sentenced in St. Louis County to 48 months in prison for first-degree felony driving while impaired (FDUI). Belich already had one previous FDUI charge. At that time, Belich’s sentence was stayed for five years. He was ordered to serve five years of supervised probation and enrolled in felony DWI court in St. Louis County with the understanding that if he failed to meet any of the conditions of his probation, the stayed sentence could be revoked at any time and he would then have to serve the remaining time in prison.
Subsequently, Belich violated the terms of his probation several times. Each time he was ordered to serve increasing amounts of time in local confinement and return to Phase One of DWI court. Finally, on Oct. 10, 2012, St. Louis County Judge Shaun Floerke ruled that Belich’s probation be revoked and ordered his sentence be executed.
Let’s have specialty courts in Carlton County. Undoubtedly, they will help many people. But let’s craft them carefully so participants have the best possible chance of success. And when they fail, hold them responsible.