Why Does My Lawyer Want Me To Get a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Grand Rapids, MI

In criminal cases involving drugs or alcohol, it is common for the court to order that the accused citizen be evaluated by a psychologist or social worker to determine whether he has a substance abuse problem — either while the case is pending or after a plea/trial and before sentencing.

The main objective is to determine whether the defendant has a drug or alcohol problem that should be addressed as part of a sentence (e.g., as a probation condition requiring alcohol or drug treatment). However, substance abuse evaluations can be a great way to tell your story to the judge through a neutral party. For that reason, it’s important that you obtain a substance abuse evaluation from a professional that will take the time to understand your situation and present it to the court in a way that helps the court to understand who you are and how you ended up in trouble.

A secondary, but important, use of substance abuse evaluations is to help convince a prosecutor that you’re different from the average case and deserve some special consideration. For example, a first-time offender without a substance abuse problem might need less supervision than someone with a serious problem. Or someone who was coping with an unusual life situation might pose less risk to re-offend, if he engages in counseling to address the underlying problem. In the end, many prosecutors feel better about striking a deal when they believe that the underlying problem is being addressed and the defendant won’t be back before the court.

If you’re being ordered to submit to a substance abuse evaluation by the court and using a court-selected evaluator, you should discuss with your lawyer what topics are off limits. It’s important to understand who is going to have access to the report before you engage in the evaluation. If, for example, the report is going to be turned over to the prosecution before you have resolved the case, you would want to avoid making statements related to the specific criminal allegations because those statements might be used against you at trial. Similarly, if you have concerns about uncharged criminal conduct, you should discuss that with a qualified criminal defense attorney before you admit to anything to an evaluator who may not be obligated to maintain your confidence.

Substance abuse evaluations are common tools used by both courts and criminal defense attorneys. They can be very beneficial in both the plea negotiation and sentencing mitigation process. If you’re facing criminal charges and haven’t yet obtained a substance abuse evaluation, you should contact experienced criminal defense lawyers in Grand Rapids, MI at Blanchard Law to discuss which evaluator to use and what is appropriate to discuss during the evaluation.

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