Whose Team Am I on Anyway? Musings of a Public Defender About Drug Treatment Court Practice

Mae C. Quinn, University of Florida Levin College of Law


This article seeks to contribute to drug treatment court discourse by analyzing drug treatment court practices from the perspective of a criminal defense attorney practicing within one such court. Part II briefly recounts the history of U.S. drug policies leading to the advent of drug treatment courts as an alternative to ordinary case processing by our courts. Part III describes the development of the initial drug treatment court in Miami, Florida, and the spread of drug courts throughout the country. It outlines the methods through which these programs modify the traditional litigation- based playing field, introducing closer judicial supervision of criminal defendants in less adversarial settings. To demonstrate the need for drug court literature to adequately address the legal and ethical concerns that may affect defense attorneys working in treatment courts, Part IV focuses on a recent article by drug court proponents about these courts and their practices. I base my analysis upon my observations and experiences as a staff attorney with The Bronx Defenders representing clients in the Bronx Treatment Court. In particular, Part IV considers an important issue largely unaddressed by other authors- the role of defense attorneys at drug treatment court status hearings in post-plea jurisdictions. It concludes that these phases of drug court proceedings must be regarded as critical stages of criminal prosecutions, wherein a defendant's constitutional rights to effective assistance of counsel and due process of law must be protected and maintained. Based upon this discussion and analysis, Part V makes general suggestions for the future of drug treatment courts and drug treatment court practice. Ongoing evaluation of these popular new models should include and take into account the actual experiences of defense attorneys within the courts. Without rigorous and honest assessment, drug treatment courts cannot properly evolve and may have difficulty claiming legal legitimacy in the twenty-first century.