Addiction, Treatment, and Criminal Charges

Treatment and Sentencing

Nicholson & Gansner handles a large number of drug cases, from simple possession to conspiracy and/or intent to distribute. Commonly the defendant in the case has become a heavy user of a controlled substance, whether that is THC, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or prescription medication. Many of these individuals would like to seek treatment, and a frequent question that we get is: what part does treatment play in the sentence of my case?

As a Defense

Often times someone who is a substance abuse addict will do things that they would normally not do. Addiction drives some people to steal, some people to sell drugs, while others may commit a violent offense or simply drive while intoxicated. No matter what the case, most people want to know whether or not they can go to some sort of treatment as part of the sentence for their case. The short answer is that, except in the most rare of circumstances, seeking out or attending treatment will not be sufficient as a sentence. To clarify, simply attending, or agreeing to attend alcohol or drug treatment will almost never be the sentence that you receive in a case. This does not mean that treatment cannot be part of your sentence, but you will likely be looking at additional consequences such as probation, fines, and/or incarceration.

Simply being addicted to alcohol or drugs is not a defense of a criminal action, meaning that it is almost impossible to have a criminal charged dropped simply because it was an action fueled by addiction. However, this can be a factor in plea negotiations and sentencing.

Prior to Sentencing

While obtaining treatment will usually not be sufficient to having your charges dropped, it can be helpful during negotiations to receive a lesser charge or sentence. Attending AA or NA regularly, or treatment with a provider that is more easily documented, for an extended period while your case is ongoing can demonstrate a commitment to sobriety. If you seek out a private facility for treatment, a defense attorney can submit documentation of your progress, as well as potentially call on the treatment providers to testify on your behalf. Some times people ask if the State will pay for someone to go to inpatient treatment, and the answer is that this option generally will have to be sought out and paid for privately by the individual or their family and friends.

As Part of a Sentence

When you are sentenced for a criminal case, part of what a defense attorney does is attempt to limit your exposure to penalties, whether that is probation, or simply less lengthy terms of incarceration. If your charges are a result of a substance abuse issue, that may be a mitigating factor for sentencing purposes. In some cases, a prosecutor may agree that treatment is among the rehabilitative or treatment needs of a defendant. There are different ways treatment can be worked into a sentence. On more serious cases, a defendant may be made eligible for treatment programs in jail or prison while he serves his sentences. In less serious situations, seeking out and providing proof of ongoing treatment may be a condition of probation.

While the State or Federal government may make someone eligible for a program, or agree that they can seek treatment at an impatient facility as part of their sentence, the government has extremely limited resources. This means that most programs are in institutions, and there is often an extensive waiting list. While someone may be approved for a program, they may have to wait for an opening, which can take weeks or months. Private treatment may be more intensive, and quicker to get a spot in, but the government will not pay for a defendant to attend a private facility like Hazelton. Private treatment facilities typically are only options for those who have the financial resources to pay for the treatment themselves.


There are several different types of treatment, such as outpatient, intensive outpatient, inpatient and follow up treatment. It is important to discuss all possible options and weight the positives and negatives of each. Because addiction can only be managed and not cured, some individuals benefit from follow up treatment for years after their initial treatment. Addiction is a frightening thing and is a factor in a large percentage of criminal cases. If you or someone you love is currently facing criminal charges and addiction issues, contact our office for a free consultation and let us see what we can do to help you.