An Update on the Previous Melendez-Diaz post:
Forensics blogger Harold Levy notes an interesting comment buried in the News Record article. One delegate suggested that this decision will create some better deals for defendants, and may result in increased use of alternate court dispositions that stress treatment.
Drug courts and DUI courts are alternative sentencing arrangements that can give a first time offender a chance to have a case dismissed after a year. If he or she completes a strict drug or alcohol treatment program, and passes mandatory drug tests or abstains from alcohol, the charged are dropped.
Currently Drug Courts in Virginia are still being used on a largely limited basis. A list of drug courts is here. Currently there is only one DUI court in Virginia, in Fredericksburg. Not all courts have drug court alternatives as an option, and not all prosecutors and judges will go along with it in every eligible case, even if it is available.
And there are downsides to accepting a drug or DUI court disposition. If you fail to complete the program, you are subject to retrial in court, and will likely face much stricter penalties than if you simply plead guilty the first time through.
But for those who complete the program, it is often a very good deal from a criminal defense perspective. And it is a good opportunity to get help with an addition problem. The research on drug courts has shown a lot of success.
It would be a shame if it took prosecutors backed into a corner to increase the use of these well-documented successful programs, that reduce recidivism, decrease the need for costly imprisonment, and truly help Virginia citizens fix their addiction problems and their lives.