Why getting a lawyer who understands alternative sentencing options is important

Alternative sentencing options through drug court or TASC can mean probation instead of jail time.

Alternative sentencing options can be a good means of addressing legal and medical problems.

While exact data is hard to come by, it is estimated that one in every 12 adults suffers from alcohol addiction, and that about 8 percent of the overall population has used an illegal drug in the last 30 days. Unfortunately, substance abuse, while a relatively common and debilitating disease, also creates significant legal problems. How to treat people suffering from alcohol and drug dependency has long been an issue in the criminal justice system.

In the 1990s, Illinois and other states enacted strict "Tough on Crime" mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenders. This "War on Drugs" has led America to be the world's largest jailer, with 25 percent of the world's prison population. But for Illinois residents suffering from substance abuse, jail or prison is not the right answer. Incarceration has consequences over and above spending time behind bars and does not address the underlying cause of substance abuse. A lengthy prison sentence can make it hard for the offender to maintain a job, see family, and drive to work. If the criminal justice system views individuals as incurable criminals, it makes it harder to recover and lead a productive, healthy life.

Fortunately, Illinois has begun to offer alternative sentencing options for certain nonviolent drug offenders. Whether drug court or other alternative sentence is the right option depends on the circumstances of the situation. Those charged with a crime involving drug or alcohol need to understand eligibility requirements, benefits and the consequences of all legal options available, including alternative sentencing.

Is drug court the right option?

Drug court is a highly structured treatment program that requires the individual charged to compete treatment, submit to drug testing regularly, and remain free of alcohol and drugs. DuPage, Will, and Cook County each have a drug court program.

For eligible offenders, drug court offers a two-year probation program, which includes appearances before a drug court judge, regular reports from a probation officer, support group attendance, and other potential treatment or counseling options. Once the two-year program is complete, probation is lifted, and the offender will not have spent any time in jail. However, if the individual violates probation, then the judge will issue sanctions, which could include a jail sentence.

First-time offender probation and TASC

In addition, under Illinois law, a person charged with a non-violent alcohol or drug-related crime can complete treatment monitored by Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC). First-time drug crime offenders can also receive probation.

These options can be a beneficial alternative for certain people accused of a drug crime. Still, it is not for everyone. If police violated any constitutional rights when obtaining evidence, that evidence is not admissible in court, meaning the case could be dismissed without the need for probation. And not everyone charged with a drug or alcohol crime suffers from substance abuse issues.

However, if an eligible nonviolent offender wants to mitigate some of the harsh penalties associated with a conviction for drug possession or DUI, and is willing to live drug and alcohol free, then alternative sentencing may be the right choice.

It is therefore important for Illinois residents accused of drug possession or alcohol-related crime to contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in navigating the criminal justice system. The Law Office of Philip R. Nathe can help those accused of drug and alcohol crimes understand and protect their rights, and help to move on from a difficult period, rather than getting a punishment that will only make a bad situation worse.

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