Facing felony criminal charges in Montgomery County has been increasingly difficult for defendants who have to deal with both the underlying charges and onerous conditions of bond.
But things have recently gotten worse.
The Montgomery County Adult Probation Office has decided to implement a new random drug and alcohol test policy. Under this new policy (it’s been around for a few months now), Defendants must call in to the probation department EVERY DAY and enter in a unique pin number. An automated system will then inform them whether or not they have to submit to a urine analysis that day. Because the system is randomized, you could be tested once a week, twice a week, or have no tests for two months. There’s no way to predict the frequency of tests for any one client.
The probation department loves the new policy, which is no surprise as it is easier for them at administer. Because the system is automated and random, busy probation officers no longer have to manage and calendar drug tests.
The probation department also has taken a “do-gooder” attitude towards the policy, stating at various meetings that the automated system is another tool of attacking drug addiction. This is a striking position to take, seeing as the policy applies to all felony cases, even those that have absolutely nothing to do with substance abuse.
This attitude squares with the general mindset of the Montgomery County criminal justice system, which has implemented extremely strict conditions of bond on people facing felony charges. The current policy on prescribed medications that contain opioids or amphetamines requires defendants to not only show their prescription to their probation officer, but also get a written letter from their doctor stating that the medication is necessary and that no other medication could accomplish the same goal.
The goal, of course, is to get people off unnecessary and addictive medications. But the courts collectively failed to appreciate that many doctors are reluctant to make absolute claims regarding alternative medication regimes. Inevitably, there will be defendants who have legitimate pain management issues who will be forced to get off of prescriptions that are essential to their day-to-day functioning.
This is not an abstract concern – I’ve witnessed clients unnecessarily struggle with chronic pain issues while their cases were pending. They face the choice of abstaining from essential medication or going to jail.
Additionally, the automated call-in policy compromises people’s ability to work. Clients have told me that it takes an extremely long time to actually get drug tested. Defendants have had to wait as long as two hours to submit a sample, and are often forced to miss substantial work time because of the wait.
For professionals and workers with demanding schedules, this system is untenable. Most people can take off a day to two to go to court and visit with their probation officer once a month. But asking defendants (who have not been convicted of anything) to take off of work with no notice and then wait for hours to take a drug test endangers a person’s ability to keep their job.
And, unfortunately, the probation department has not limited this policy to pre-trial conditions of bond. If you plead to a probation or deferred adjudication on any felony case and some misdemeanors (such as DWI’s), you must continue to call in every day and potentially take a UA on any given day with less than 12 hours’ notice.
I’ve had clients qualify for deferred adjudications and even pre trial diversions (where the case gets dismissed upon successful completion of an informal probation), who instead take a “straight” conviction because they could not keep their jobs and comply with the random drug test policies of Montgomery County.
So, if you have just been arrested in Montgomery County, please consult with your attorney as soon as possible to see how the drug testing policy will affect you.