ARTICLE OVERVIEW: A complete guide to Florida drug courts, including eligibility requirements and getting started. We explain the legal process in detail here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- What is a Drug Court?
- Florida’s Drug Court History
- Requirements and Eligibility
- Getting Started
- The Process
- Florida Drug Court Statistics
- Completing Florida Drug Court
What is a Drug Court?
Florida drug courts are alternative, problem-solving courts that help people who are struggling with addiction. Instead of punishment for drug or alcohol related crime, the focus is on treatment. In Florida, drug courts aim to “address the root causes of justice system involvement through specialized dockets, multidisciplinary teams, and a non-adversarial approach.” 
The main elements of these special courts in FL include:
- Evidence-based addiction treatment
- Individualized treatment plans
- Judicial authority and supervision
- Graduated and coordinated responses
Continue reading here to learn about the legal process for drug or alcohol related crime in Florida. If you’re ready for immediate help, call our hotline number. American Addiction Centers can help coordinate addiction care and work with drug courts to help you get better.
Florida’s Drug Court History
Drug courts started in Florida. In fact, the first drug court in the United States started operation in Miami-Dade County in 1989. The creation of this specialized court began the national drug court movement. In the years since then, Florida has continued to use drug courts to help people.
Drug courts work. Numerous studies have confirmed that drug courts significantly reduce crime, provide better treatment outcomes, and produce better cost benefits than other criminal justice strategies.  So, if you are struggling with addiction, a Florida drug court may be just what you need.
Drug Court Requirements and Eligibility in Florida
The 2018 Florida Statutes, Title XXIX PUBLIC HEALTH, Chapter 397 on Substance Abuse Services outlines the drug court system for Florida. According to this law, each county may fund a treatment-based drug court program. 
To be eligible, you must be assessed and diagnosed with a substance abuse problem. Then, the drug court orders treatment services tailored to your individual needs.
Each drug court defines their own eligibility and exclusion criteria. This criteria is outlined in a policy and procedures manual. For example, you cannot participate if the court cannot manage your case safely or effectively. Further, you cannot automatically be excluded if you’ve been charged with drug dealing or if you have a history of violent crime.
For more information, you’ll need to contact the circuit court in your jurisdiction for more information. You can find more information about eligibility by circuit court in this Florida Court Guide to Transferring Problem Solving Cases.
As of February 2019, there were 95 drug courts in operation in the Sunshine State. This includes:
- 53 Adult Drug Courts
- 30 Veterans Courts
- 25 Mental Health Courts
- 20 Juvenile Drug Courts
- 22 Early Childhood Courts
- 15 Family Dependency Drug Courts
- 4 DUI Courts
But how do you get started or enroll in a drug court?
There are two main ways people enter the drug court system in Florida. First, you can request a Pretrial Intervention Program. Second, some people are court ordered to the problem solving court as Postadjudicatory Treatment.
According to the law, entry into any pretrial treatment-based drug court program must be voluntary. And entry into any postadjudicatory treatment-based drug court program as a condition of probation or community control must be based upon the sentencing court’s assessment of:
- A substance abuse screening
- Your agreement to enter the program
- Your criminal history
- Your interest in the services of the program
- The recommendation of the state attorney and the victim
- The total sentence points
To begin, you can request a Public Defender screening. The Public Defender’s Office represents many of Florida’s program participants. Applications are made primarily through The Public Defender’s Office. Referrals can also be made directly to the State Attorney’s Office, Probation, Program Director, and the Court.
Second, you can request a Pretrial screening to see if you’re eligible for drug court. Or, your private attorney might refer you to the drug courts in Florida.
Finally, drug court can also be a requirement of post arrest-conditional release terms. Likewise, you might be referred to drug court from your First Appearance for a crime. Drug court can also be an opportunity presented at Arraignment. As each case in Florida is unique, you’ll want to consult with an attorney to learn more.
Each drug court operates independently in Florida. So, the process can be a little different depending on the presiding judge or the court’s administrative system. Generally, you first need to be transferred from a criminal court to the drug court. Then, the staff at the drug court will conduct an Admission Intake with you.
After intake, the drug court staff meet with the presiding judge to determine an individual treatment plan. Prior to each court appearance, you’ll meet with a treatment team to assess your progress. Then, drug court staff and make recommendations concerning treatment goals and compliance.
Initially, you must attend weekly sessions where the Judge reviews your progress. As you progress in the program, these court appearances spread out. Random home visits are also a part of the process. You can also expect to be monitored through other ways such as ongoing random drug and alcohol tests, electronic monitoring, and comprehensive case management.
If you are actively following suggestions, you can expect praise from the Judge and incentives to encourage you to stay away from drugs or alcohol. Then, upon successful completion of the program, the State will drop the charges against you.
Every person who is in a Florida drug court must follow all rules and regulations of treatment. Treatment usually includes some combination of:
- Attendance at support group meetings
- Inpatient or outpatient rehab
- Mandatory drug testing
- Regular appearance before the court
You can expect to pay $15.00 – $20.00 per week to help offset the cost of treatment and drug testing. You can also expect to receive a minimum of six hours of group counseling per week during the initial phase of treatment and 200 hours of counseling over nine to twelve months.
Program length is usually 12-18 months. Some people can benefit from a longer period of supervision. There are usually 4-5 distinct phases of the Drug Court program. Each phase must be fully completed in order for you to reach commencement.
Keep in mind that drug court judges in Florida view voluntary participation very favorably. So, if you are committed to getting better, the process will be easier.
If you’re accepted into a Florida Drug Court, you’ll be placed under supervision for a period of at least one year. During this time, you’ll need to follow all suggestions and complete each phase of the Drug Court program. What happens if you do not comply with the court’s requirements?
If you test positive or fail to complete program requirements, you can expect some type of sanction from the Judge. Sanctions may range from community service to jail. If at any time you fail to meet the program requirements of Drug Court, a Bench Warrant may be issued for your arrest. After arrest, a court hearing will be scheduled within a month, or so. Generally, those who do not complete requirements receive increased counseling.
If you violate your probation, your charges heard by the judge presiding over the postadjudicatory drug court program. The judge will dispose of any such violation, after a hearing on or admission of the violation. This is why supervision is truly a crucial link between you and the Drug Court.
Florida Drug Court Statistics
Data from 2017 show that Florida’s drug courts admitted 6,195 participants and graduated 3,577 people.  During that year, 220 children of family dependency drug court participants were reunited with their parents. In addition, pregnant women who were participating in a drug court program gave birth to 102 drug-free babies. 
But are these courts effective?
According to a 2013 report funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance,
- Graduation rates in Florida ranged from 43-85% with an average of 57%.
- Graduates remained in the program for an average of 14.5 months.
- Participants remained in programs average of 12 months.
- Programs ranged in intended length from 12-15 months.
Fewer Florida drug court participants were re-arrested after program exit than comparison group members. In fact, Floridians who went through adult drug courts were arrested 30% less often as the comparison group in the first 12 months after program exit, and 38% less often in the second 12 months after program exit. 
Plus, program participants were significantly less likely to be re-arrested for a felony within the 2 years after program exit than offenders who were eligible for the program but did not participate. In addition, fewer drug court participants had drug-related arrests in the 12-24 months after program exit than comparable offenders who did not participate in drug court.
But that’s not all!
Nationwide, drug court programs save $3 to $27 for every $1 invested in the program. 
If you’re facing a sentence related to drug or alcohol-related crime, a drug court can help! To learn more, seek help from an attorney. Or, call us to talk about addiction. We know addiction. Medical treatment can help.
Completing Florida Drug Court
If you complete a drug court program successfully, criminal charges from the State of Florida will be dropped against you. Then, you will celebrate the accomplishment! Graduation ceremonies are usually held at a judicial center.
Know that drug courts give you an opportunity to truly turn your life around and not simply go through the motions to get charges dismissed. While that is your right, the fact that you are in a Court Intervention Program suggests that you may have some serious issues to confront in your life.
That is why Drug Court exists! FL drug courts are there to help you become crime free and drug free. Then, you can return to society as a positive contributor. We are rooting for you!
We hope to have offered you a complete look into Florida’s drug court system. But we understand if you still have questions.
Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to answer you personally and promptly.