Problem Solving Courts in Indiana

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Certain counties around the state have put extensive time and resources into developing problem solving courts to help come up with creative solutions to criminal issues in our society. These courts are built around rehabilitation rather than punitive punishment to help give a different approach to certain types of crimes and situations such as drug, mental health, and veteran type issues. Although most of these programs have strict rules on eligibility, if you can get accepted, there are much better options available to you rather than jail time, including the possibility of getting your case dismissed!

Indiana’s New Problem Solving Courts

These courts have been created by the Indiana legislature to address the specific needs of offenders that are not adequately addressed in traditional courts. The main goal of problem solving courts is to help offenders break out the criminal behavior pattern and ask the question why is a particular person committing an offense rather than automatically giving someone who committed a crime a punitive sentence. Again, these courts are looking for individuals who have a problem that isn’t necessarily the source of the crime, like drug use or a mental health issue, which is the reason the individual is committing a particular crime.

The main goal of problem solving courts is to focus on positive outcomes by making offenders address and successfully deal with the rooted issue at hand that is causing them to commit crimes. How this is different is they have judges take a more hands-on approach to addressing the problems and changing behaviors. Additionally, there is increased collaboration between the courts and criminal justice agencies, such as community corrections, and service providers, such as rehabilitation facilities, as well as life skill providers, housing, job placement opportunities, and other counseling. Each problem solving docket has a through screening and assessment procedure and placement is extremely limited. It will be very important to have an attorney who has worked with these courts and one who knows the application process well.

Marion County has taken an advanced role in problem solving counts by setting up five different problem solving dockets. They are drug treatment court, drug reentry court, behavior court, P.A.I.R. (Psychiatric Assertive Identification and Referral Program) and the Indianapolis Veterans’ Court.

The standard pretrial procedure for most of these courts goes as follows:

  • Case screening and filing into the appropriate criminal court based off the offense alleged to have been committed;
  • Application by the defense attorney to get the alleged offender into the appropriate treatment court;
  • Prosecutors have sole discretion in accepting the alleged offender into the problem solving court docket and the offender must voluntarily agree to participate in the program;
  • The case is then transferred from the original court to the appropriate problem solving court;
  • A meeting with a case manager or probation officer will then be held to implement a personalized plan that must be followed during the duration of the program;
  • The offender is then monitored for compliance throughout the proceedings by case managers and judicial oversight at court hearings;
  • As long as there are no violations and the alleged offender is compliant with the program, the case will be dismissed and no further punishment will be sought!
  • However, if the individual is unsuccessful on the program, the case is returned to the original criminal court docket for sentencing.

Drug Reentry Court

Briefly, drug reentry court is mainly for offenders who have already been convicted and sentenced who are either returning from a period of incarceration or are in violation of their probation of community corrections terms. Most often, the individuals selected for this court have violated their terms and are making a plea for an additional chance to show they are willing to get clean, their actions are being driving by their addictions, and need more oversight to be successful. When you are in the position of violating your terms of probation or community corrections, you typically are brought into the court system again for resentencing. At this point, you are often facing whatever days are left suspended on your sentence and often times you are facing incarceration. The judges in the particular courts screen and make the selections of the participants for the reentry program.

If accepted into the reentry program, the offenders are overseen by case managers who monitor them to be address their addiction and other criminogenic problems. If someone is in the program and violates, the offender could be looking at going back to jail or prison and could also lose their earned credit time. A violation could also result in Parole Board sanctions for parolees or probation termination for probationers. If successful, offenders are successfully discharged from probation or placed on non-reporting parole.

Drug Treatment Court

To be eligible, the case charged needs to be a felony charge with rare exceptions made for misdemeanor cases. Additionally, it is an absolute disqualifier if there is any criminal history of violent cases or dealing charges. The prosecutors also look in-depth into the case most recently charged to see if they feel there might be a dealing issue although it wasn’t actually charged. The alleged offender must have been diagnosed with a substance abuse problem and the prosecutor must determine the case is charged based off problems found to be a significant cause of the criminal behavior. If the right application, along with diagnosis and treatment documentation, is made by a criminal defense attorney to the prosecutor, the prosecutor will then make a decision on whether or not to accept the offender into the program. To get into the program, the offender must enter into a plea of guilty with the court but similar to a conditional discharge, the judgment is withheld. Judgment withheld means that although you plead guilty to the court, the judge does not enter a conviction and sets the plea to the side pending the successful (or unsuccessful) completion of the drug treatment program. After this, the offender begins the drug treatment program. If successful, the case is dismissed. If unsuccessful, the original plea will be accepted and the offender will be sentenced.

Veterans’ Court

Another court project that has been created to address unique needs is Veterans’ Court. The goal of this type of problem solving court is to focus on addressing the needs of veterans in the court system by bringing together substance abuse rehabilitation professionals, mental health professionals, local social programs and intensive judicial monitoring and linking eligible veterans to individually tailored programs or services. The main goal is to deal with isolation issues and reconnect with other veterans in the community as well as help veterans navigate their earned federal veteran benefits. This type of court is also available to National Guard members who don’t usually get federal benefits.

There is a similar screening and eligibility process to get into Veterans’ Court. Pre-trial offenders with charges in a criminal court and who are diagnosed with substance abuse and/or mental health issues that are considered a significant cause for the criminal behavior the offender is exhibiting. To be eligible, the alleged offender must have been in military service, although not required, it is preferred that the offenders have Veteran’s Affairs benefits, and an application must be submitted by an attorney which includes information on diagnosis and treatment. The prosecutor is again the decision maker as to who gets accepted into the program. Also, the offender must enter into a plea of guilty which is withheld by the judge pending treatment.

The screening process is a bit more flexible and lenient with an offender’s criminal history and those with a limited violent history or history with criminal firearms cases may be considered. Marion County currently has about 50 offenders in their veterans’ court program and have recently received a grant to double those numbers.

Mental Health Courts and P.A.I.R.

P.A.I.R. stand for psychiatric assertive identification and referral program. Those eligible for P.A.I.R. are offenders who are diagnosed with specific mental health conditions that are found to be a significant cause to the nexus for criminal behavior. Again, an application must be made by an attorney for an offender who is facing a low level felony or misdemeanor charge, is not disqualified, and whose application has been accepted by a prosecutor. Prosecutors are looking for individuals who have diagnosed with a serious mental illness and get this person in contact with a treatment provider more consistently. Prospective offenders cannot have a long criminal history or a criminal history which includes violent crimes. The offender will enter into a plea of guilty with judgment withheld and will ten undergo programming specifically designed to address the offender’s particular concerns.

Along with P.A.I.R., behavioral health courts have also been set up. Similar to drug reentry court, these courts are primarily used for post-conviction offenders who are close to violating community corrections or probation and are given one final chance to address a specifically diagnosed need. These offenders have specific mental health problems that are causing the offender problems with their ability to successfully complete probation or community corrections. An individual gets started with the behavioral health program upon recommendation by probation to a judge of the criminal court who will make the decision of acceptance for individuals. To be eligible, offenders really need to be convicted of a felony with at least a year remaining to serve and these types of courts are not meant for misdemeanor level cases.

When on the program, probationers make regular court appearances and are monitored by a combination of mental health probation officials and professionals to monitor compliance and to assist in helping the offenders get back on track with their medication and mental health counseling. Again, if completion of the program is successful, the probationer is successfully discharged from probation and if unsuccessful a violation of probation hearing will be held and the probationer could be facing jail tie for whatever amount of time is suspended on their sentence.

An additional benefit of gaining acceptance and successfully completing one of these programs is the higher possibility to be given the opportunity for an early expungement. This means you may not have to wait the standard five year period for misdemeanors, or the eight year period for felony cases.

In conclusion, there are a variety of different courts that have been set up with a goal of helping people get out of tough times in their lives rather than just throw people in jail. However, expectations must be tempered because these court programs are extremely limited with only a small amount of spaces available. Additionally, not every county in Indiana have the resources available to run these programs. Since only a few counties have the above mentioned programs and because the screening process is extremely difficult to get into, it is essential to consult with an attorney who knows the application process to get into these problem solving courts and give you the best possible shot of getting accepted.

The Indianapolis Attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC can help you navigate the confusing waters of problem solving courts and give you the best chance of getting accepted into a program that fits your needs and allows the process to be as comfortable as possible. Our Indianapolis criminal defense lawyers are available 24/7/365 for your questions.  Give us a call at (317) 870-0019.