Drug court bill advances

Christopher Collins
Todd Gilbert

The House of Delegates has passed a bill that would authorize the establishment of drug courts in Frederick, Warren and Clarke counties and Winchester.

Its sponsor, Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, said the bill contains no provision for state funding and, in a change since its introduction, is limited only to defendants charged with illegal drug possession.

The bill is needed for Frederick County to meet plans for setting up its drug court, the first in the area, by July 1. There has been no sign of the other jurisdictions planning to launch their own drug courts.

Nevertheless, Collins, a former defense attorney and law enforcement officer, regards passage of the legislation as an important legislative achievement.

“This was the first time in over a decade that anybody has been able to get a drug court bill out of the House of Delegates,” Collins said.

Drug courts combine normal legal processes with demanding, tightly controlled treatment and rehabilitation programs that are used as alternatives to jail sentences. Proponents say the greater flexibility in sentencing options will cut costs and give addicts a better chance at turning their lives around than relying solely on conventional jail and probation sentences.

The Senate is now considering Collins’ bill. He said some changes could be made if additional research shows the current wording could hinder the ability of drug courts to obtain grants from hospitals, the federal government and other funding sources.

The bill’s scope was narrowed during review in the House of Delegates. Under the initial version, defendants charged with shoplifting and other crimes deemed to be products of addiction could have had their cases decided by drug courts. Collins said only those charged with drug possession are eligible for drug courts under the bill that eventually passed, 90-8.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, was one of those opposed to the bill.

I have consistently opposed drug courts or other specialized courts because I have always believed that judges already have the discretion to structure their dockets in any way they see fit to address special needs in their community,” Gilbert said in an email message. “To his credit, Delegate Collins’ bill is narrowly tailored to address only drug possession crimes and does not allow judges the unfettered discretion to refer other criminal conduct to such a setting.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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