Drug court legislation continued to 2021

February 11, 2020

Legislation seeking to expand the use of drug treatment courts (or simply drug courts, for short) has been continued to 2021 at the request of the patron.

SB 819 (Morrissey) had two key provisions.  First, it provided that any jurisdiction or jurisdictions intending or proposing to establish a drug treatment court shall not be denied permission under the Code of Virginia to establish such court solely on the basis of funding such court.  Second, it provided that a drug treatment court shall be made available to every defendant, regardless of jurisdiction.

VACo spoke with the patron’s office numerous times to express concerns about 1) how this would logistically work and 2) the fiscal impact of this idea.  Currently, there are 366 trial level courts in Virginia (circuit courts, general district courts, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts), but there are only 53 existing drug treatment courts.  Beyond there only being 53 drug courts, the services – and funding – to which these drug courts have access to are highly localized.  To suddenly open these 53 specialty courts to persons in all jurisdictions and courts would create enormous technical, logistical, and financial burdens.  Alternatively, to seek to open additional drug courts for each of these jurisdictions would cost nearly $80 million, according to estimates from the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court (OES) and Department of Corrections (DOC).

Ultimately, Senator Joe Morrissey agreed to hit pause on this legislation, deciding to carry it over to 2021.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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