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Alternative Sentencing in California


Drugs are bad for you. We all know this; it’s practically a cliché to say so. Doesn’t make it any less true to say, though.

Something else that’s bad for you is jail.

Unfortunately, jail – or worse, prison – is a place where a lot of addicts eventually wind up. Drug addiction doesn’t merely affect a person’s health, it often forces addicts to engage in activities that are themselves illegal to maintain their addiction.

Many addictive substances are themselves illegal. It’s illegal to purchase, possess, use and be under the influence of those substances, particularly if the user is engaged in certain activities like driving. Also, there’s this: a less-considered symptom of drug addiction is desperation. It’s called addiction for a reason; drug users often must have their substance, if only to stave off withdrawal. So they resort to acts like petty theft, prostitution and other things that serve only to bring them into the legal system.

Addiction is a disease, yes. But it’s one of the only diseases with symptoms that can put its patients on the other side of the law.

Alternative options to incarceration

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to jail or prison for individuals charged with certain drug offenses. A Deferred Entry of Judgement (California Penal Code section 1000) is a sentencing alternative that allows sentences to be suspended while the individual participates in an 18-to-36-month drug treatment program. Some of the drug offenses eligible for a DEJ include:

  • Possessing marijuana or other controlled substances and restricted drugs
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Using or being under the influence of a controlled substance
  • Growing marijuana for your own use
  • Creating, using or altering a prescription for narcotic drugs for your personal use

Additionally, to be eligible for a DEJ, the individual being charged must:

  • Be a first-time drug offender with no other offenses involving controlled substances on their record
  • Not have a charge involving violence
  • Have no felony convictions in the past five years
  • Have successfully completed probation or parole for any prior charges
  • Not have had a previous DEJ
  • The prosecutor’s agreement that drug treatment is appropriate

If the individual successfully completes drug treatment along with other conditions like drug tests, counseling and court appearances, their charges are dismissed. There are immeasurable benefits for individuals eligible for alternative sentencing options. People who participate in sober living or drug/alcohol treatment programs are much more likely to maintain their sobriety upon release than those who spend their sentence in jail or prison. Also, rehabilitation and community-based alternatives to incarceration have been shown to reduce the likelihood of an individual reoffending.

Prop 47: New hope

California Proposition 47 is aiming to reduce the number of nonviolent drug-related offenders in state prisons and county jails. This proposition has lowered seven low-level nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and includes retroactive sentencing and expungement provisions. The importance of this is supported by American Civil Liberties Union data stating that the U.S. makes up less than 5 percent of the world population, yet has more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. This is a direct result of the nation’s war on drugs.
However, Proposition 47 and alternative sentencing are helping to bring down that percentage and help drug/alcohol addicted offenders receive the help they need instead of banishing them to jails and prisons where overcrowding has led to a multitude of other problems.

Sovereign Health Group

Sovereign Health Group’s Court Services provides advocates to speak to the court regarding the benefits of residential and intensive outpatient drug/alcohol treatment over incarceration. Not only providing data to support the fact that alternative sentencing is beneficial to the individual and community, advocates can expand on the treatment options available through Sovereign Health Group. This is invaluable to the defendant looking not only to avoid incarceration but also achieve and maintain sobriety.

There are definite circumstances under which alternative sentencing would not be appropriate. These include if there was a serious non-violent felony, if there were numerous or repeat crimes or if the defendant poses a risk to the public. Defendants can speak with a Sovereign advocate to determine if they are eligible for alternative sentencing, learn their likelihood of having such sentencing ordered by the court and figure out the most beneficial treatment program for their needs. It is important for a defendant and defense attorney to both be educated on the options regarding alternative sentencing in order to make the most effective argument to the court.

If you have recently been convicted of a nonviolent, non-serious offense in the state of California, you might be eligible for alternative sentencing. Call Sovereign Health’s Court Services at 866-439-7698 today to speak with a professional who can get you aligned with an advocate and treatment facility in your area.