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More often than not, there is a correlation between drug and/or alcohol addiction and criminal activity. Many of the cases we deal with are addiction-related offenses of this type, which lead a person to engage in criminal behavior while under the influence of alcohol. The key to breaking the vicious cycle of drug and/or alcohol addiction and crime is continued treatment.
The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court (DATC) is a new division that has been created within the County Court of Victoria.1 The applicable law is the Justice (Drug Court and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2020(Vic) entered into force on April 26, 2021.
The DATC is a therapeutic court, allowing for the imposition of a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (DATO) as an alternative to a simple jail sentence. The goal of DATC is to help individuals address their underlying addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and to promote recovery with an emphasis on rehabilitation. There are vast benefits of a therapeutic approach to the criminal justice system, not only for the individual, but also for the general public, by reducing recidivism.
A drug and alcohol treatment order has two key components:
- Guard component: A term of imprisonment not exceeding four years; and
- Treatment and supervision component: Programs aimed specifically at treating an individual’s drug and/or alcohol addiction through rehabilitation. These programs operate over a two-year period.
However, to be eligible for a DATO, there are certain eligibility criteria:
You have to:
- Being dependent on drugs or alcohol and this addiction must have contributed to the offense2;
- Be liable to an immediate term of imprisonment not exceeding four years;
- Live in the drug court catchment area3;
- To plead guilty4; and
- Consent to the DATO.
You must not:
- Being charged with a sexual offense5 or actual offense with bodily harm6;
- Being charged with an offense for which a sentence of four years’ imprisonment would clearly be insufficientseven;
- Be charged with, but not limited to, the following:
- Causing serious injury intentionally or recklessly in circumstances of serious violence
- Aggravated Home Invasion or Aggravated Carjacking
- Certain offenses of violence against on-duty first aiders, on-duty custodial officers or on-duty youth justice workers
- Being charged with breaching a supervision order8
- Have a parole order9
- Being sentenced by the Supreme Courtten
- Be subject to a community correction order
Step 1: Directions Hearing
At the direction hearing, your eligibility for a DATO will be assessed. If you are found eligible, your case will be adjourned for one determination hearing pending the DATO forensic assessment report.
If your case is deemed ineligible, it will be adjourned to the general court list.
Step 2: Determination hearing
At the determination hearing, formal guilty pleas must be entered. The primary objective at this stage is to determine if a DATO is the most appropriate sentence. In determining this, the Court will consider the following:
- If you are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol;
- If the offense is drug and/or alcohol related; and
- If your addiction contributed to the commission of the offense before the Court.
If you are found fit for a DATO at this point, your case will be adjourned to a sentencing hearing. If found ineligible, it will be adjourned to return to the general court docket.
Step 3: Conviction
The DATO assessment report is reviewed and the sentence is pronounced. If you are placed on a DATO, you must comply with the requirements.
Although the DATO is a rigorous program, it is a proven sentencing provision that works with individuals by specifically addressing the underlying cause of offending and encouraging reform and rehabilitation. Here are examples of bespoke processing included in a DATO:
- Frequent screening tests
- Weekly court appearances
- job training
- Programs for Offenders
If you violate your DATO terms or commit a new violation, your order may be canceled and your case will be referred to court. You will then either have to serve the remainder or all of the DATO’s custodial sentence, or you could be sentenced again.
1 Sentencing Act of 1991 (Vic) Division 2, Part 3, Subdivision 1C
2 Sentencing Act of 1991 (Vic) s18Z(1)(c).
3 County Courts Act 1958 (Vic) s4AAB(1)(b).
4Sentencing Act of 1991 (Vic) s18ZO(1A).
5 Same as s18Z(1)(a)(i).
6 Same as s18Z(1)(a)(ii).
seven Same as s18Z(1)(d).
8 Same as s18Z(2B).
9 Same as s18Z(2A).
ten Same as s18z(2A).
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