Arizona drug court is a sentencing option for people with eligible criminal backgrounds who have been accused of certain drug crimes. The program is similar to probation. It lasts for at least 1 year. After completing the program, the penalties for the drug offense could be reduced, or the charge could be set aside or dismissed.
1. What is drug court in Arizona?
Drug court is an alternative sentencing scheme for people facing drug charges in Arizona. Defendants who have been accused of committing a non-violent drug offense and who do not have a serious criminal background are eligible.
Drug court should not be confused with Maricopa County’s early disposition court.
There are several types of drug courts in Arizona:
- family drug court,
- juvenile drug court,
- drug courts that provide adult probation, and
- drug courts for driving under the influence (DUI).
Because state law gives each county the discretion to create and administer their own drug courts, the details will vary by county.1 However, most begin with an eligible defendant pleading guilty and being assigned to probation with the drug court, opening up opportunities for drug treatment programs.
The terms of probation are determined by the county attorney, the defense attorney, and the drug court judge. This drug court team will come up with treatment services that are meant to prevent recidivism, especially for those with a high risk of a subsequent drug-related crime.
Upon the successful completion of the terms of his or her probation, the defendant’s charges can be dismissed, or their sentence can be reduced or set aside.2 If the defendant fails to complete probation or violates a term of the program, he or she will be found guilty and their case will proceed to sentencing.3
For example, in Maricopa County, the program lasts 1 year. Defendants plead guilty to the offense if they want to enter the drug treatment program. To complete the program, the court will require the probationer to:
- maintain stable employment or be a full-time student,
- make regular court appearances at the superior court,
- sign a contract at every appearance, outlining the next steps in their drug treatment program,
- undergo random but frequent drug testing,
- meet regularly with a probation officer, and
- follow through on the terms and conditions of the contract they signed.
In Pima County, though, the program lasts at least 18 months. To complete Pima’s program, defendants have to:
- be present at regular court hearings,
- undergo drug treatment and education from an approved treatment provider,
- pass drug tests,
- go to counseling sessions, and
- pay program fees.
Upon completion, defendants can have their sentence reduced or the offense re-designated as a misdemeanor.
In some cases, defendants who complete their drug court requirements can have the drug charges dismissed, entirely.4 This only works for drug offenses involving the possession or use of:
- prescription drugs,
- dangerous drugs – ARS 13-3407,
- narcotics, or
- drug paraphernalia.5
Dismissible charges can also include the attempted possession or use of these drugs, or solicitation or conspiracy to possess or use these drugs.6
2. Who is eligible to participate?
Only some defendants are eligible for drug court in Arizona. To be eligible, a defendant:
- needs to have a drug addiction, be dependent on drugs, or have substance abuse issues,
- cannot have already completed or failed to complete a drug court program, other than a juvenile drug court program,
- cannot have already completed or failed a drug diversion program, other than a juvenile drug diversion program, and
- must not have a prior felony conviction for a sex offense, a serious offense, or a dangerous offense.7
Defendants who meet all of these eligibility requirements have the option of being sentenced to a drug court treatment program, so long as the criminal charge is eligible, as well.
3. Which offenses can be brought to drug court?
Not all drug offenses can be sent to drug court. Some have to be resolved by the traditional criminal justice system.
The following are drug offenses that cannot be resolved through drug court:
- serious offenses under ARS 13-706,
- sex offenses,
- dangerous offenses, or
- offenses that are not eligible for probation.8
If the defendant is eligible for drug court, and the charge does not fall into one of these categories, then probation through drug court is an option.
4. Do I have to plead guilty, first?
Most of the time, yes, the defendant has to plead guilty in order to participate in a treatment program through Arizona’s drug court. In some cases and in some counties, pleading guilty is not always necessary.
- ARS 13-3422(A) and (L).
- JLBC Staff Program Summary, “Judiciary Drug Court” (September 10, 2008).
- ARS 13-3422(G) and (J).
- ARS 13-3422(H).
- ARS 13-3422(I).
- ARS 13-3422(B) and (D).