Utah’s Drug Court

Interviewer: Are there other diversion programs for either prescription or illegal drug use?

Court Koehler: I would not say we have diversion programs per say.  There are diversions that happen and that would be a negotiation that takes place between the attorney and the prosecutor and it would depend on the circumstances just like I’ve been talking about.

The Drug Court Is an Alternative Available for Individuals Identified as Low Risk Offenders

In Utah, we have a drug court and the program is for people that are identified as low risk offenders. That is in the sense that they are not necessarily dangerous to society in terms of going out and committing armed robberies or other violent crimes.

The Drug Court Is Intended to Promote Rehabilitation of Drug Addictions

What they have is a drug problem and drug addiction and the court wants to help them straighten themselves out with as little trouble and unintended consequences as possible.  You enter a drug program if you qualify, then you might be able to qualify for a plea in advance or a conversion.  The plea would go into effect when you make it successfully through the program, which typically requires some intensive substance abuse counseling and other conditions.

Interviewer: Will a drug case always go to the “drug court”?  Are they always slated to go there?

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Court Koehler: Initially any case will just go to regular court. Let’s say you are one of these individuals and you have a drug problem and you are caught with caught with some methamphetamines.  Your attorney, as part of plea negotiations if this is what you desire, might talk to the prosecutor and work out a deal where you are offered a plea in advance as long as you complete the drug court program.

The Drug Court Is Offered at the Discretion of the Judge and the Prosecutor  

It’s not really a separate court house, it’s more like a program in the regular court and whether or not you qualify is up to the judge and the prosecutor.  The advantage is it allows the judge more discretion in the type of plea bargain and he or she may avoid the mandatory minimum penalties.

There Is No One Set Defensive Strategy for Drug-Related Offenses

Interviewer: What is your strategy in defending drug cases, do you always try to get the person into drug court?  Do you try to get them into counseling?

Attorney Koehler Respects His Clients’ Wishes but Counsels His Clients to Fight the Charges When the Prosecution Has a Weak Case

Court Koehler: It totally depends on the situation.  Every client is different.  We use different approaches that work in different cases. Each client has a different sort of outlook and desire when it comes to the resolution of a charge.  Initially, I always try to be sensitive to that and keep my options open.  Sometimes it is best to go and fight charges where the officer doesn’t have a lot of evidence or if the prosecution doesn’t have a great case.

In some ways drug charges are easier to fight than something like a DUI because you don’t have to disprove scientific breath test results, which, at times, can be difficult to defend.  In other cases where someone has a drug history, the state have strong evidence and there is not sort of any motion that can be filed to suppress evidence, then it can be better to negotiate and go the drug court route.  It totally depends on the situation.

My personal strategy is not necessarily to be a bulldog all the time and go in and fight every single case tooth and nail.  It’s to be sensitive to the situation and then if I need to go through trial and be aggressive, we’ll do that.

By Court Koehler

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