More often than not, there is a correlation between drug and/or alcohol dependency and criminal activity. Many cases we deal with are offences that are connected with a dependency of this sort, resulting in a person engaging in criminal behaviour under the influence. The key to disrupting the vicious cycle of drug and/or alcohol dependency and crime is ongoing treatment.
The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court (DATC) is a new division that has been established in the County Court of Victoria.1 The governing legislation is the Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Court and Other Matters) Act 2020 (Vic) which came into effect on 26 April 2021.
The DATC is a therapeutic court, allowing for the imposition of a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (DATO) as a sentencing alternative to a straight term of imprisonment. The objective of the DATC is to support individuals to address their underlying drug and/or alcohol dependency and to promote recovery through a focus on rehabilitation. There are vast benefits of a therapeutic approach to the criminal justice system, not only for the individual, but also for the general public, by reducing reoffending.
There are two key components to a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order:
- Custodial Component: A term of imprisonment not exceeding four years; and
- Treatment and Supervision Component: Programs aimed specifically at addressing an individual's drug and/or alcohol dependency through rehabilitation. These programs operate over a two-year period.
To be deemed eligible for a DATO however, there are certain eligibility criteria:
- Be dependent on drugs or alcohol and that dependency must have contributed to the offending2;
- Be facing an immediate term of imprisonment not exceeding four years;
- Live in the catchment area for the Drug Court3;
- Plead guilty4; and
- Consent to the DATO.
You MUST NOT:
- Be charged with a sexual offence5 or actual bodily harm offence6;
- Be charged with an offence for which a sentence of four years' imprisonment would be manifestly inadequate7;
- Be charged with, but not limited to, the following:
- Causing serious injury intentionally or recklessly in circumstances of gross violence
- Aggravated home invasion or aggravated carjacking
- Certain offences of violence against emergency workers on duty, custodial officers on duty or youth justice custodial workers on duty
- Be charged with contravention of a supervision order8
- Have a parole order9
- Be subject to a sentence of the Supreme Court10
- Be on a Community Corrections Order
Step 1: Directions Hearing
At the directions hearing, your eligibility for a DATO will be assessed. If you are deemed eligible, your matter will be adjourned for a determination hearing whilst awaiting the court-ordered DATO assessment report.
If your matter is deemed ineligible, it will be adjourned into the general court list.
Step 2: Determination Hearing
At the determination hearing, formal pleas of guilty must be entered. The main purpose at this stage is to determine whether a DATO is the most suitable sentence. In determining this, the Court will consider the following:
- Whether you have a drug and/or alcohol dependency;
- Whether the offending is drug and/or alcohol related; and
- Whether your dependency contributed to the commission of the offence before the Court.
If you are deemed suitable for a DATO at this stage, your matter will be adjourned to a sentencing hearing. If deemed ineligible, it will be adjourned to return to the general court list.
Step 3: Sentencing
The DATO assessment report is considered, and sentence is handed down. If you are placed on a DATO, you must comply with the requirements.
Although the DATO is a rigorous program, it is a proven sentencing disposition that works with individuals in specifically addressing the underlying cause of offending and encouraging reform and rehabilitation. Examples of tailored treatment included in a DATO are:
- Frequent drug testing
- Weekly court appearances
- Employment training
- Offender-specific programs
If you fail to adhere to your DATO conditions or commit further offending, your order may be cancelled, and your matter will return to Court. You will then either have to serve the remainder or all of the custodial term of the DATO, or you may be resentenced.
1 Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) Division 2, Part 3, Subdivision 1C
2 Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) s18Z(1)(c).
3 County Court Act 1958 (Vic) s4AAB(1)(b).
4Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) s18ZO(1A).
5 Ibid s18Z(1)(a)(i).
6 Ibid s18Z(1)(a)(ii).
7 Ibid s18Z(1)(d).
8 Ibid s18Z(2B).
9 Ibid s18Z(2A).
10 Ibid s18z(2A).