Should the Relapse of a Drug Addiction Send You to Jail?

December 14th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

Kentucky Drug Crime Attorney

Probation allows someone convicted of a crime, or who pleads guilty one, to avoid jail time. The downside to this arrangement is the restrictions and limitations that come with it which, if violated, can result in the person going to jail. Many crimes in Kentucky are committed by those addicted to drugs. Often a condition of probation is that the person must get drug treatment and no longer use drugs. If addiction is a disease, should someone be punished with jail time if they use drugs and violate the terms of probation?

Julie Eldred is a Massachusetts resident struggling with drug addiction. She was on probation with the conditions of getting treatment and not using drugs. She broke both those rules and spent time in prison (which didn’t provide any treatment services) but was released when her attorney found another treatment for her. She has appealed the court’s decision to put her in jail, and the appeal was heard in Massachusetts’ top state court, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), in October, according to NPR.

Eldred says she was given the choice of probation and treatment or jail while she was illegally using opioids. She complied with her probation conditions (she attended outpatient treatment, took addiction medication and saw a therapist), but she failed a drug test. Eldred said she told her probation officer she just started treatment and had relapsed, but was back on track. The probation officer didn’t care, and Eldred found herself back in front of a judge who put her in jail for violating the terms of her probation.

The bases of her legal challenge are:

  • It’s not realistic that a court order will result in a drug addict’s stopping drug use.
  • Jail time ends up being punishment for their addiction, a physical and psychological condition.
  • Given the current state of knowledge about drug addiction, it’s unconstitutional to incarcerate someone for an addiction relapse, because that’s part of the disease.

A brief filed in the case by the Massachusetts Medical Society states that relapse is a symptom of addiction that needs to be treated, not punished.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and parties who want to keep the current system claim there isn’t a scientific consensus about whether drug addiction is a brain disease that leaves someone powerless over drug use. Some say it’s the threat of jail that prevents many from using drugs, and the courts shouldn’t adopt a particular medical position on the issue.

The Massachusetts Bar Association’s chief legal counsel and chief operating officer, Martin Healy, told NPR he hopes the court’s decision in the case will result in more state funding of addiction treatment and changes to how the commonwealth’s courts handle drug addicts convicted of, or who plead guilty to, crimes.

“It is probably going to be one of the most important cases that our court will bring down — over the last decade,” Healy said. “And I think it will result in some dramatic changes to the way that society treats addiction.”

If you or a family member has been charged with a crime, Lexington, KY, criminal defense attorney Dan Carman can help. He was a Judge Advocate “JAG” (defense lawyer and prosecuting attorney) for felony charges against Marine Corps and Navy personnel. This experience gives him insight into both the prosecution and defense sides of the legal process, which can be very helpful to those facing criminal offense charges. He knows how the Kentucky criminal justice system operates, including probation and parole, and will work closely with you every step of the way.

Based in Lexington, he represents clients throughout Kentucky who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Let him work with you to plan the aggressive defense that you will need. Use the convenient online inquiry form or call (859) 838-1415 for a free initial consultation.