DC DRUG COURT FOR FELONY MARIJUANA CASES

Distribution of marijuana, or Possession with the Intent to Distribute (PWID) are misdemeanors in DC Superior Court, so long as the weight is less than 1/2 pound. More than that can be charged as a 5-year felony. A new pilot program allows for Amended Sentencing Agreements (ASA’s) to break  down felonies to misdemeanors – upon successful completion of DC’s Drug Court.

Amended Sentencing Agreements (ASA’s) allow for charges to be reduced at the time of sentencing – if the defendant completes whatever program the judge orders.

In a new pilot program, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia will allow felonies to be reduced to misdemeanors, after successful completion of Drug Court.

Drug Court is a 24-week sanctions based program designed to help people with drug dependencies.

This new change in the ASA’s means that those who do successfully complete Drug Court would not be saddled with a felony conviction.

First, the bad news: All ASA’s (including the new felony-to-misdemeanor option) are creatures of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Only the prosecutor can offer any ASA, and the prosecutor sets all the terms and conditions. A prosecutor can refuse to offer a felony-to-misdemeanor option in marijuana cases for any reason, or for no reason at all.

That being said, AUSA Division Chief Richard Tischner, and his deputy, Lisa Baskerville Greene, have been more open and forthcoming in offering diversion programs for marijuana and other non-violent crimes.

Official Eligibility for Felony-to-Misdemeanor ASA’s

  1. No prior crimes of violence.
  2. No prior felonies within the past 10 years.
  3. No prior misdemeanor convictions for PWID or Distribution of marijuana.
  4. No more than 2 prior misdemeanors within the past 10 years.
  5. No more than one other pending misdemeanor.
  6. No other pending felonies.
  7. No PCP-related charges.
  8. All co-defendants must be eligible and participate in Drug Court.

Yikes – Lots of requirements.  But there’s more.

The defendant must have a “verified, current substance abuse or dependency problem.”  “Verified” means:

  • At least 3 positive (+) drug tests w/in the past 12 months, or
  • A verified history of drug treatment w/in the past 12 months, or
  • A positive (+) drug test on the day of arrest or on a random spot test, followed by a drug assessment reflecting a substance abuse problem.

Absent special circumstances, DC Superior Court no longer drug tests for marijuana, so verified substance abuse problem means a verified hard drug problem – which most marijuana users thankfully don’t have.

How the Felony-to-Misdemeanor ASA Works

In order to get a felony-to-misdemeanor ASA, the defendant must ask that his case be transferred to Drug Court, where a guilty plea to a felony must be entered.

Prior to the plea, the defendant is told what misdemeanor he will receive after the successful completion of Drug Court.

For marijuana cases, this means pleading to felony distribution or PWID, then allowing the plea to be withdrawn, and entering a plea to misdemeanor distribution or PWID at the time of sentencing.

What if the client fails to complete Drug Court?  Or gets re-arrested? Not good.

In an ASA, the defendant has already entered a guilty plea to a felony.  All that remains is sentencing.

Conclusion: 

Felony-to-misdemeanor ASA is a good option, but it is only available for a limited number of clients, who can meet its strict guidelines.

Whether ASA is right for an individual case can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, after consultations between an accused and his or her own lawyer.



Categories: diversion programs, Marijuana Laws

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