There are five felony treatment courts in Queens County, all of which employ a therapeutic, problem solving model, as opposed to traditional case processing. This includes a collaborative rather than adversarial approach, linking clients with available services and resources, judicial monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, graduated sanctions, and a minimum treatment mandate of one year.
Queens Law Associates was a committed stakeholder at the inception of these courts and remains an ardent supporter of their purpose and goals. QLA maintains a dedicated attorney as a member of the team in each of the treatment courts to represent all of the office’s clients, seeking to secure their legal interests while their clinical needs are met.
The Queens Treatment Court (QTC) was established to address the increasing number of substance-abusing and substance-dependent defendants in the court system that are charged with felony drug offenses and certain non-drug felony offenses. Clients must plead guilty to enter QTC, and are then placed in state-licensed, court-monitored treatment programs. At subsequent court appearances the court is provided with updates on the clients’ progress in treatment. Clients are drug-tested at their programs and on their court date. Defendants must complete a treatment program, remain drug and alcohol free, avoid arrest, obtain a high school diploma or GED, and obtain employment or participate in vocational training. Upon completion of the requirements of QTC, the plea is vacated and the case is dismissed in the interest of justice and sealed. If the defendant fails to complete QTC, then an alternative jail sentence is imposed under the plea agreement.
The Queens DWI Court (QDWI) targets defendants with alcohol or substance issues who are charged with felony level DWI offenses, and follows the above treatment court model. Clients entering QDWI must plead to both a felony and a misdemeanor count of DWI and agree to treatment, the wearing of an alcohol monitoring bracelet for ninety days, attendance at a Victim Impact Panel, and other requirements similar to the QTC model. Upon successful completion of QDWI, the felony count is dismissed and the defendant is sentenced to three years probation, a fine, a one year license revocation, and installation of an ignition interlock device. If the defendant fails to complete QDWI, then the felony remains and an alternative jail sentence is imposed under the plea agreement.
The Queens Mental Health Court (QMHC) employs the treatment court model to focus upon defendants with severe and persistent mental illness who are facing felony charges. Once referred, candidates for QMHC are screened by the District Attorney’s Office for criminal eligibility and then undergo a clinical mental health evaluation. All participants are required to plead guilty and sign a plea agreement that requires them to follow a treatment plan prepared by their case manager, take prescribed medications, and abide by the QMHC rules and regulations. All pleas are conditional and are on a case-by-case basis, with successful completion involving a non-jail disposition and failure calling for an alternative sentence of incarceration.
The Queens Veterans Court (QVC) was created in recognition of the service of veterans to our country and of the special problems faced by veterans involved in the criminal justice system. Emphasis is placed on ensuring that clients receive appropriate services to restore them to healthy and productive lives in the community. After screening and evaluation, a conditional guilty plea is necessary to enter QVC, with requirements similar to the above courts. Here too dispositions are on a case-by-case basis, depending on the severity and nature of the charges and any prior criminal history.
The Queens Drug Diversion Court (QDDC) was created following the enactment of Criminal Procedure Law Article 216 in 2009. The legislature recognized the success of treatment courts and the need to extend them to more defendants. QDDC is similar in concept to the Queens Treatment Court (QTC) above, except that consent of the District Attorney is not required. Since the granting of diversion is within the discretion of the judge, it is called “judicial diversion.” All procedures are governed by statute, eligibility is broader, and dispositions are on a case-by-case basis. The mandate in this Court is 18 months minimum.