Fri 27 Jan, 2023 Criminal Defense

How Does Drug Court Work in NY?

Many people who face criminal charges also struggle with substance abuse issues. Oftentimes, a criminal defendant gets involved with illegal activity solely because of his or her drug addiction. 

Also, a person suffering from substance abuse may get caught up in the criminal justice system for crimes that are not drug crimes, even though drugs are the underlying cause. For instance, people with substance abuse issues oftentimes must commit theft crimes such as grand larceny to have the money needed to support their drug habit.

Fortunately, New York courts understand that substance abuse is a serious problem for many criminal defendants and that many criminal defendants are good people who end up making mistakes due to their addiction. Consequently, New York courts offer Drug Court for many criminal defendants. When a defendant enters drug court, he typically has the chance to get his criminal charges dismissed if he successfully completes long-term drug treatment. 

Drug Court is a great opportunity for many defendants, as it allows them to turn their lives around and avoid both going to prison and getting a criminal conviction for the charges they face.


As you might expect, defendants charged with most drug crimes are eligible for drug court. 

However, defendants charged with Class A drug felonies—which are the most serious drug felonies—are not eligible for Drug Court. To be charged with a Class A drug felony, you need to have sold or possessed such a large quantity of drugs that the prosecution likely believes that you are more than a drug addict and are instead a serious drug dealer. Of course, some people who sell large quantities of drugs also suffer from addiction. So, although a person charged with a Class A drug felony cannot get into Drug Court, an experienced NYC criminal lawyer can sometimes still get a good outcome. 

On the very other end of the spectrum are very low-level, misdemeanor drug crimes. Defendants charged with misdemeanor drug crimes are also not eligible for drug court. The practical reason for that is because most people charged with misdemeanor drug crimes are usually able to get their lawyer to negotiate a deal where the charges are reduced and the person only has to complete several days of drug counseling. In other words, Drug Court is too long of a process for a person to go through if he only faces a misdemeanor offense.

Of course, people who only face misdemeanor drug crimes may want the long-term treatment that Drug Court provides. The best thing for such people to do is to voluntarily enter a drug rehab program of their own choosing on their own time. Although Drug Court offers many benefits and allows people to avoid prison, it’s never ideal to have the court system—and possible prison time—hanging over your head.

If you are charged with Class B, C, D, or E drug felonies, then you will be eligible for Drug Court. Also, people charged with other offenses—which are not drug related—may be eligible for Drug Court. Generally speaking, such offenses include Burglary in the Third Degree, Criminal Mischief in the Second or Third Degree, Grand Larceny in the Second or Third Degree, Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third or Fourth Degree, and Forgery in the Second Degree.


Even if a person is apparently eligible for Drug Court based on the crime that he is charged with, he can be disqualified for several reasons. These reasons include: 

  • A conviction in the last 10 years for a violent felony offense, such as murder;
  • A conviction in the last 10 years for an offense where merit time was not allowed;
  • A conviction in the last 10 years for a Class A drug felony.

Drug Court Process

The process of getting into drug court—and completing drug court—is very slow. When a person is charged with a Drug Court eligible crime and is interested in drug court, he will typically go through the following steps:

First, the case will need to be indicted by a grand jury. It’s possible that a person can get into Drug Court without an indictment, but that is rare. Also, you want to avoid getting your case indicted if possible, so it’s typically only after a case is indicted that Drug Court may appear to be a good option. Oftentimes—especially with drug cases—an indictment does not occur until months after the initial arrest.

Next, after a case is indicted, the defendant is usually arraigned in a general courtroom that is not Drug Court. Only after the arraignment in that courtroom will a case possibly be adjourned to Drug Court. The adjournment to drug court can be months further down the road.

Oftentimes, the judge will require the prosecution to consent to Drug Court before a case is sent to drug court. Some judges, though, will send the case to Drug Court so that the Drug Court judge can assess whether the defendant should receive Drug Court.

Once a person’s case is in Drug Court, the judge in Drug Court will determine whether he or she thinks the defendant could benefit from Drug Court. The judge will hear arguments from the prosecution and defense counsel. If the judge thinks Drug Court could be appropriate, then Drug Court staff will set up a screening process so that the defendant can be evaluated. The evaluation will determine the extent of the defendant’s substance abuse, which helps the court determine whether the defendant should receive treatment and whether such treatment should be inpatient or outpatient. The screening process can take months to complete.

Once the screening is completed, Drug Court will identify a specific program for the defendant to complete. Typically, the programming lasts about two years. If the programming is acceptable to the defendant, he will usually plead guilty to the offense. If the defendant successfully completes the Drug Court programming, he can oftentimes withdraw his prior guilty plea and get his case dismissed. People who successfully complete Drug Court often can put their addiction and the criminal justice system behind them.

Need Help? Contact NYC Criminal Lawyer Cody Warner Today

If you have been charged with a crime and have substance abuse issues, you may be eligible for Drug Court. Contact NYC criminal lawyer Cody Warner today for a free consultation. He can assess your case to determine the best path forward.