By: Jeffrey Lee Drimer, Esq.
Among all the “bad” things you want to avoid in your life, becoming familiar with the words “Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance Seventh Degree” has got to be near the top of the list. Imagine seeing your child (no matter how young or old) in the City Court of Syracuse or one of the many Village or Justice Courts in Onondaga County and a Judge has just explained to your son or daughter (now a “defendant”) that they have been charged with a drug-related crime.
What do you do? Who do you call? How bad is this? You have more questions than you can process and a growing sense of fear. . . Is his or her life in danger? Good instincts. Unfortunately in 2016, Onondaga County’s opioid death rate was, outside of New York City, one of the highest in New York State. Your fears are not unreasonable. There is also the possibility that he or she will have a criminal record, be incarcerated, or put on probation. Your child is treading upon dangerous ground.
For the purpose of this article, we are not going to discuss drug sales (felonies) or other crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or crimes committed to get money to buy drugs. We are going to discuss the first-time, simple possession defendant with no prior record and try to put a positive “light” on the pending case. Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th is a violation of Penal Law Section 220.03. If one is charged with this crime, it is the result of the individual having on their person a controlled substance such as cocaine, Oxycontin, or heroin among others.
As soon as possible, you should contact the best available lawyer you can find with experience in “drug-related” cases. This is extremely important because this attorney’s knowledge of evaluators, treatment agencies, prosecutors, judges and program personnel will become your lifeline in the months to come. Your attorney will then assess the validity of the case against your child. Assuming that your child was in possession of the drugs discovered after a lawful search, you and your child will have to decide what to do next.
It is likely that your attorney will then arrange for an evaluation of your child’s relationship to drugs and possible dependency. Again, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume the evaluation determines that an addiction exists, and treatment is necessary. Please believe me. . . This is a good start. No one, not your lawyer, the DA, the Judge, or the Probation Department wants to put your child in jail or even give them a criminal record over this charge. Everyone involved with your child’s case file wants to protect him or her from their addiction. Unique in the Criminal-Justice system is the degree of cooperation between Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Treatment agencies, and the Judiciary in identifying and treating addiction as a preference to criminal prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of a first-time offender.
It is possible that your child’s case will then be moved to the Syracuse Community Treatment Court now presided over by the Hon. James H. Cecile. To quote SCTC’s purpose in its online statement: “The mission of the SCTC is to improve
the processing of drug cases through the expeditious entry of eligible defendants into judicially-monitored drug treatment.” Substance abuse defendants are given an opportunity to enter in an agreement with the Court choosing treatment commitments over criminal consequences (Eligibility Requirements online along with the Particulars of the Agreements).
Even at the felony level, the degree of concern for a defendant’s future well-being is extraordinary in Onondaga County. Project PROUD (Prosecutors Response to Offenders Using Drugs) is an alternative method of prosecution for non-violent felons that was established by District Attorney William Fitzpatrick in 1992; the only one of its kind in Upstate New York. Project PROUD attempts to divert defendants into rehabilitation, aftercare, and education. Eliminating drug dependency and removing the addict from the criminal-justice system is the goal.
It is possible with a commitment to treatment that the criminal consequence of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance can be eliminated, and control over the drug addiction can be found. So look at the pending charge as a warning sign that your child is in danger. Take the charge of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th Degree as “a shot across the bow.” Do not minimize the charge as a simple misdemeanor but consider it an opportunity to get the best treatment possible for your child or loved one. Be as informed about addiction as you can be. Be ready for failures and disappointments. But, most importantly, have faith that your loyalty and love can help bring your “child” home safe.