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Drug Court in Palm Beach County: What to Expect

Posted by Mattie Fore | Mar 03, 2021 | 0 Comments

If you have been arrested for a felony drug charge in Palm Beach County, you may be offered a chance to participate in Drug Court. If you complete the Drug Court program, your charges will be dismissed and your criminal case closed. If you do not have prior criminal convictions, you could even get your record sealed or expunged. This sounds like an easy decision.

Drug Court is a rewarding experience for many of the program's graduates. But it is a lot of work and it is not be the best option for everyone. Being fully aware of all that Drug Court entails will help you decide whether to accept an offer of Drug Court or to handle your defense in a different way. 

Do I need to plead guilty before entering Drug Court?

Palm Beach County's Drug Court is different than some of the other counties in our area in at least one way-- you do not have to plead guilty in order to take advantage of Drug Court. By contrast, in Martin County just north of us, Drug Court can only be accessed by pleading guilty as charged. Then if you complete Drug Court successfully, your plea of guilty will be vacated by the judge, and then your case will be dismissed.

This means that in Palm Beach County, entering Drug Court comes with less risk. If you do not successfully complete Drug Court in Palm Beach County, you can leave the program and then proceed to trial in your criminal case. However, you will never be offered Drug Court again.

But in jurisdictions that require a plea of guilty first, failing out of Drug Court will result in a sentencing by the judge. It is still possible to get probation without jail, but you may end up with a felony conviction. 

Must I have a substance abuse problem to enter Drug Court?

Yes. You will be asked to sign a Drug Court contract in which you agree that you have a drug problem and would like to benefit from the Drug Court program's strict requirements. Also, if you do not have a drug problem at all, Drug Court will feel like a waste of time. Yet, many people who end up with felony drug charges could benefit from what Drug Court offers--a supportive network of counseling and accountability related to correcting behaviors that lead to drug abuse. 

How long does Drug Court last?

There is a one-year minimum participation. The program typically lasts 12 or 13 months in Palm Beach County, but some participants are in the program for longer and some graduate sooner. 

How often do I need to attend court?

Hearings are every few weeks and become less frequent as a participant progresses in the program.

Hearings have been held by Zoom during the pandemic. This has made Drug Court more accessible to residents in Belle Glade, Pahokee, and Canal Point, who previously had to drive an hour or more to get to court because Drug Court is not currently offered at the West County courthouse.

Will I be on probation?

No, but you will have a probation officer and it will feel like you are on probation. The officer helps to supervise participants while they work through the program. Like a probationer, you may be subjected to searches of your person or residence.

What are the court hearings like?

Each hearing is held in the style of a group meeting. The participants are addressed by the judge one at a time and then dismissed from the hearing. The judge will generally comment on how well the participant is progressing in the program, offering encouragement or solutions to issues that arise. The judge may permit a participant to graduate to the next phase if they are deemed ready. Graduations from the Drug Court program occur monthly in court.

What is the judge like?

The Drug Court judges I have seen are part of what makes this program an inspiring thing to witness. They are genuinely interested in the betterment of the program's participants. Running Drug Court has to be one of the more rewarding jobs a judge can have. 

In Palm Beach County, we currently have a wonderful judge running Drug Court. In Martin County, the same judge has run Drug Court for over 20 years and he is also wonderful from what I have seen. 

Four Phases of Drug Court

Every participant progresses through the same basic program and graduates to the next phase when the judge deems they are ready:

Phase I (lasts about 90 days):

  • 3 substances abuse counseling groups per week (Zoom is an option for all counseling as of the date of this post due to the pandemic)
  • 1 individual counseling group session per month
  • Monthly reporting to probation
  • 2 AA or NA meetings per week
  • at least 2 random drug tests per week
  • Status conferences as the judge orders (court dates)
  • 45-days of clean drug test results, then on to Phase 2

 Phase 2 (lasts about 90 days):

  • 2 substances abuse counseling groups per week
  • 1 individual counseling group session per month
  • Monthly reporting to probation
  • 2 AA or NA meetings per week
  • at least 2 random drug tests per week
  • Status conferences as the judge orders (court dates)
  • 60-days of clean drug test results, then on to Phase 3

Phase 3 (lasts about 90 days):

  • 1 substance abuse counseling group per week
  • 1 individual counseling group session per month
  • Monthly reporting to probation
  • 2 AA or NA meetings per week
  • at least 1 random drug test per week
  • Status conferences as the judge orders (court dates)
  • 90-days of clean drug test results, then on to Phase 4

 Phase 4 (lasts about 60 days):

  • 1 substance abuse counseling group per week
  • 1 individual counseling group session per month
  • Monthly reporting to probation
  • 2 AA or NA meetings per week
  • at least 1 random drug test per week
  • Status conferences as the judge orders (court dates)

Inpatient Drug Treatment

When participants have a particularly bad drug problem, it is possible to be sent to an inpatient drug treatment facility by the judge. I believe this would only occur in the most serious of circumstances, but Drug Court participants do agree in writing to such a result in the event that the judge deems is appropriate. 

Prohibited Conduct 

No Marijuana Prescriptions in Drug Court

Even if you have a prescription for marijuana, you will not be able to smoke marijuana while you are in Drug Court. In fact, any prescription for a substance that could be abused or is addictive is discouraged and might not be tolerated. A pain medication prescribed for a severe injury might be acceptable, but only for a minimal period of time and if other alternative medications are not feasible. 

Other prohibited substances

While in Drug Court, be careful not to ingest anything that will cause problems on a drug screen. Examples are foods containing poppy seeds and even some vitamin supplements. 

You must also agree not to use a vape pen or e-cigarette, or enter a smoke shop, while in Drug Court. Nor can you enter businesses whose primary purpose is to sell alcohol (like bars or liquor stores).

 No firearms or weapons 

You cannot own, possess, or try to buy a firearm or other weapon while in Drug Court.

Travel Permission Required

You cannot leave the county without permission while in Drug Court. If you wish to travel while in Drug Court, you should ask the judge for permission during a status conference in court. If you are doing well and are passing your drug tests, it might not be a problem, but be sure to get permission.  

Reasons not to participate in Drug Court

I hesitate to discourage anyone from getting the help they genuinely need, so I will first say that the Drug Court program has a good record for keeping people sober and avoiding recidivism. Since it offers a supportive community of people focused on sobriety while remaining employed, it is a great way to learn to live your life without drugs or alcohol.

If you want to fight your criminal case, you cannot also do Drug Court. The police may have violated your right to live without being stopped or searched when they recovered the drugs you are charged with possessing. Your defense team could possibly obtain a favorable resolution of your case in court.

If you read the rest of this post, you know Drug Court requires a significant time commitment. If you are not able take any time off from work for meetings, surprise drugs tests, or frequent court dates, Drug Court is not for you. If you really have a debilitating drug problem, you should make time for these things. But if you are just trying to get your case dropped, talk to a criminal defense lawyer to see if Drug Court is the best decision before you enter the program. 

About the Author

Mattie Fore

Ms. Fore has been licensed to practice law in the State of Florida since 2009. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, where she tried and won her first case before a jury as a student of the Criminal Practice Clinic. She is also a graduate of the National Criminal De...


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Mattie Fore Law, LLC is a criminal defense practice which handles all types of felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic offenses in Florida state courts. Ms. Fore will devote the time and attention you and your case deserve in order to achieve the best result possible.