Recently, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling not to terminate Desire Nicole Sambrano, a client of Nichols Dixon, from the Cleveland County Drug Court Program. This decision allowed Ms. Sambrano the opportunity to continue her course of treatment and progress rather than serve the next five (5) years in prison.
At the hearing to terminate her from the Drug Court Program, her attorney, Drew Nichols, introduced evidence regarding her continued progress and treatment. The Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office argued that the drug court judge “impermissibly considered” Ms. Sambrano’s progress after the motion to terminate her from the program had been filed. The Court of Criminal Appeals later confirmed the District Court’s decision that evidence of a defendant’s progress toward recovery may be considered when determining whether they should be removed from the drug court program.
Ms. Sambrano was initially charged with DUI and entered a plea of guilty with an agreement to participate in Oklahoma’s drug court program. Days after pleading into the program, Ms. Sambrano was arrested and received another DUI charge. The DA subsequently filed to terminate her from the drug court program before she had attended her first session and started any treatment.
Drew Nichols of Nichols Dixon successfully represented Ms. Sambrano and the State’s motion to terminate her from the drug court program was denied. Ms. Sambrano was allowed to stay in the program where she has greatly benefited.
The Oklahoma Drug Court Program
Under the Oklahoma Drug Court Act, a defendant charged with drug crimes may enter into a plea agreement where they undergo a substance abuse rehabilitation program and receive a deferred sentence instead of serving a prison sentence. This law recognizes the importance of rehabilitation for persons suffering from substance abuse as a means of preventing future drug crimes.
The Oklahoma Drug Court Act provides that the drug court may consider “relapses and restarts in the program which are considered to be part of the rehabilitation and recovery process.” However, a defendant’s violation of their plea agreement only warrants termination from the drug court program if progressively increasing disciplinary sanctions were insufficient to secure compliance. A defendant who fails the drug court’s rehabilitation program must serve their sentence in prison.
Judge Virgin’s Decision
Early on, Ms. Sambrano allegedly violated the terms of her plea agreement. In response, the district attorney sought to remove her from the drug court program and have her serve her full prison sentence. However, after the district attorney moved to remove her from drug court, Ms. Sambrano demonstrated significant progress with rehabilitation and recovery. The district attorney argued that evidence of Ms. Sambrano’s progress was irrelevant to the issue of her removal.
The Honorable Judge Virgin considered Ms. Sambrano’s subsequent compliance and progress toward rehabilitation to be relevant to the issue of her removal from drug court:
“The only thing that makes me question whether or not to leave you in the drug court program is the fact that you did show up on that next court date, and that you took your sanction and went on about your business. And it does appear that you’ve done pretty well…But since you did decide to show up and have been compliant, I’ll find that it is not conduct that requires removal from the drug court…”
The Court of Criminal Appeal’s Decision
The district attorney appealed Judge Virgin’s decision to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that the court abused its discretion by considering Ms. Sambrano’s later compliance and progress toward recovery.
On August 5, 2019, the Court of Criminal Appeals found that Judge Virgin was right to consider our client’s compliant behavior in keeping her in the drug court program. The Court held that “[w]hether to terminate a participant from drug court is a decision left to the discretion of the drug-court judge” and that “[d]ecisions concerning the admission of evidence are likewise discretionary.”
This decision is a critical win for those who suffer from substance abuse and whose illness hurtled them down a criminal path. However, the road to recovery can be tumultuous and rocky. It would be unfair to deprive someone the relief our state’ drug courts provide before they have a chance to make progress in the rehabilitation program, based merely on their impaired ability to comply with the court’s preliminary terms. That is why the Oklahoma Drug Court Act allows judges to consider relapses and restarts before giving up on their chances of successfully participating in the drug court’s recovery program.
We are pleased to report that Ms. Sambrano continues to make progress in her recovery under the drug court’s rehabilitation program.
Seek Effective Counsel from a Skilled Attorney at Nichols Dixon PLLC
If you suffer the illness of substance abuse and are facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to retain effective legal representation from a criminal defense lawyer at Nichols Dixon PLLC. We will zealously advocate for your legal rights to ensure the adverse effects of your illness does not jeopardize your chance to get proper treatment for your substance abuse issues.
To get started, call us at (405) 294-1511 or contact us online and schedule an initial consultation about your case today.