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Adult Drug Court Expansion in Pinellas County, FL

Melinda Morris
By: Melinda Morris
Dec. 28 2016
Pinellas County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino signed Administrative Order Number 2016-011 PI-CIR on March 1, 2016. The subject of the administrative order was Adult Drug Court Expansion in Pinellas County.

Administrative Order 2009-016 PI-CIR was created to identify the alleged offenders to be served by an expanded adult post-adjudicatory drug court and to establish section Z for these cases. That administrative order, however, had to be updated because it made reference to section Q, which was closed in the interest of judicial efficiency.

Morris Law Firm, P.A. handles adult drug court cases in Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park, Dunedin, and many other nearby communities in St. Petersburg, Florida. This article explains the administrative procedures used for such cases in courtrooms throughout Pinellas County.

Drug Court Eligibility in St. Petersburg, Florida

Section Z is a post-adjudicatory drug court, and the Clerk of the Circuit Court cannot assign circuit criminal cases on a random basis to section Z. Instead, cases are assigned to section Z based on the following procedures.

The State Attorney’s office must identify alleged offenders who meet the criteria to be included in the drug court expansion and transferred to section Z. The Court can place an alleged offender into the drug court program in section Z as a condition to probation or community control if the alleged offender:

  • Committed an offense on or after July 1, 2009;
  • Sentence points on the Criminal Punishment Code score sheet are not more than 60 points;
  • Is a nonviolent offender, meaning a third-degree felony violation under chapter 810 of the Florida Statutes or any other felony offense that is not a forcible felony as defined in Florida Statute § 776.08;
  • Is amenable to substance abuse treatment; and
  • Is otherwise qualified under Florida Statute § 397.334(3).

The Court can order an alleged offender to complete the drug court program in section Z if:

  • The Court finds or the Alleged offender admits a violation of probation or community control;
  • Sentence points are not more than 60 points (including points for the violation);
  • The underlying offense is a nonviolent felony, meaning a third-degree felony violation under chapter 810 of the Florida Statutes or any other felony offense that is not a forcible felony as defined in Florida Statute § 776.08;
  • The alleged offender is amenable to substance abuse treatment;
  • The alleged offender agrees to participate after explanation of the program; and
  • The alleged offender otherwise qualifies under Florida Statute § 397.334(3).

Florida Statute § 397.334(3) states that entry into any post-adjudicatory treatment-based drug court program, as a condition of probation or community control, must be based on the sentencing court’s assessment of the alleged offender’s:

  • Criminal history;
  • Substance abuse screening outcome;
  • Amenability to the services of the program;
  • Total sentence points;
  • Recommendation of the State Attorney and victim (if any); and
  • Agreement to enter the program.

Administrative Order Number 2016-011 PI-CIR sates that an alleged offender should be identified as soon as possible but by his or her first pre-trial. An alleged offender’s case must first be set for arraignment in a circuit criminal section, as it may not be initially assigned by direct information to section Z.

Additional Drug Court Procedures in Pinellas County, FL

Administrative Order Number 2016-011 PI-CIR clarifies that when the State Attorney’s office has identified an alleged offender to be transferred to section Z, that office can request the section judge—including the section N judge—to transfer the case to section Z. If the judge determines that the alleged offender may be suitable for transfer, the judge can authorize the alleged offender to obtain an evaluation.

An alleged offender who is being considered for section Z must voluntarily and truthfully provide information to aid the Court at each step of the process, including having to execute a written consent form with a waiver of confidentiality for the evaluation and treatment prior to the evaluation. Alleged offenders who refuse to execute the written consent will not be considered for transfer to section Z.

The evaluation not only provides an overall assessment of the alleged offender’s addiction and the resources needed to overcome that addiction, but also helps the Court to determine whether the alleged offender is an appropriate candidate for section Z. If a section judge authorizes an evaluation, the case should be set on the section judge’s calendar for a pre-trial three weeks after the alleged offender is referred for evaluation.

After the evaluation is obtained, the section judge may accept a plea from the alleged offender, impose a sentence, and transfer the case to section Z for judicial review of drug court treatment. The sanctions imposed by the sentencing judge are within the Court’s discretion and include, but are not limited to outpatient treatment programs and non-secure residential treatment programs, although other conditions of probation may be ordered, such as random drug testing, a requirement to obtain a G.E.D, or a requirement to participate in transitional housing and related services.

Once an alleged offender is sentenced and the case is transferred to section Z, judicial review of drug court treatment will occur in section Z. The purpose of a judicial review is to assess the alleged offender’s level of participation in treatment, monitor the overall success of treatment, and admonish or encourage the alleged offender in his or her attempt at rehabilitation. Alleged offenders who successfully complete and graduate from drug court may receive a reduced probationary period. The section Z judge will review an alleged offender’s successful completion of the assigned treatment and makes the ultimate decision whether an alleged offender graduates from drug court.

The sanctions imposed by the section Z judge for violating probation due to a failed or suspect substance abuse test are within the Court’s discretion. The judge may continue probation, revoke probation and order a new term of probation, impose a term of incarceration in either the county jail or Department of Corrections, or impose any other sanction authorized by law. A violation of probation due to any reason other than a failed or suspect substance abuse test may result in the case being transferred back to the original section judge for hearing the violation of probation.

St. Petersburg Adult Drug Court Lawyer

Administrative Order Number 2016-011 PI-CIR establishes that no more than 300 defendants can be in section Z at any one time unless the judge assigned to section Z specifically authorizes that number to be exceeded. The Administrative Office of the Courts must notify the State Attorney when section Z does not have the capacity for additional defendants.

If you were arrested for any kind of alleged drug crime in Pinellas County, it is in your best interest to seek legal representation as soon as possible. Melinda Morris and Seth Shapiro are criminal defense attorneys in St. Petersburg who may be able to help you be admitted to the drug court and incur as few penalties as possible for your alleged offense.

Morris Law Firm, P.A. aggressively defends clients throughout Pinellas County as well as Sarasota County, Hillsborough County, Manatee County, and Pasco County. Our attorneys can provide a complete evaluation of your case as soon as you call (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.