Options for First-Time Drug Offenders in Arizona
By Zachary Mushkatel on December 12, 2016
Getting arrested for drug possession in Arizona can carry serious consequences – even if you are a first-time offender.
For instance, if you are charged with possession of less than two pounds of marijuana for personal use, you could end up being convicted of a Class 6 felony. You could face up to two years in prison and a fine as high $150,000.
Fortunately, if you have been arrested for possession or use of an illegal substance in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Sun City, Surprise or elsewhere in Maricopa County, and it is your first offense, you may be eligible for a deferred prosecution program called “TASC Diversion.”
If you successfully complete the program, the County Attorney can dismiss the charge or charges against you. You can avoid jail, fines and – above all – a felony conviction on your record, which could end up costing you a career or educational opportunity down the road.
The experienced drug possession lawyers of Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, provide highly personalized, one-on-one attention to all of our clients. Our legal team can closely review your case and help you to determine whether you qualify for TASC Diversion. We can also help you to get through the process of enrolling in the program.
To learn more, contact us today. We can meet with you right away to discuss your case.
What Is TASC Diversion?
Deferred prosecution programs such as TASC Diversion are cost-cutting measures. The program spares taxpayer dollars from being spent on the incarceration of first-time drug offenders. At the same time, the program gives offenders the opportunity to get treatment, counseling and, ultimately, a chance to turn their lives around for the better.
TASC stands for Treatment Assessment Screening Center. This is the private, non-profit corporation that has partnered with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) since the late 1980s to administer the county’s deferred prosecution program for drug offenders. Eight other County Attorney Offices in Arizona offer similar programs.
According to the MCAO, TASC Diversion is available as:
- An alternative to charging a person with a drug offense (pre-filing); or
- An alternative to prosecution after charges have been filed (post-filing).
If a person successfully completes the program, the person can:
- Avoid criminal charges being filed; or
- Have filed charges dismissed without prejudice.
During one recent year, nearly 4,000 cases went through TASC Diversion, with roughly two-thirds of those cases being in the post-filing stage, the MCAO reports.
While most cases referred to TASC Diversion involve possession of marijuana, those who have been accused of possession of other types of drugs may be eligible for participation.
According to the MCAO, the cases referred to the deferred prosecution program during one recent year included:
Prescription fraud 2.2%
Crack cocaine 0.2%
According to the TASC website, an Arizona State University study found that the program has a “cumulative success rate of more than 73 percent,” and that those who successfully complete the program have a lower rate of relapsing into criminal behavior.
Are You Eligible to Participate in TASC Diversion?
Your lawyer should discuss with you the possibility of enrollment in Maricopa County’s deferred prosecution program at an early stage in your case and, with your permission, discuss the program with the prosecutor.
If you are eligible, the County Attorney would divert your case through the program before you enter a guilty plea or go to trial.
You may be eligible for TASC Diversion if you:
- Face a felony drug possession charge
- Do not contest your guilt
- Would likely benefit from appropriate treatment within the program.
However, under A.R.S. § 11-361, you are likely ineligible for TASC Diversion if you have been previously convicted of:
- A “serious offense” as defined in R.S. § 13-706
- A sexual offense listed in Title 13, Chapter 14
- A “dangerous offense” as defined in R.S. § 13-105
- A “dangerous crime against children” as defined in R.S. § 13-705.
Additionally, you would likely not be eligible if you have been convicted three or more times of personal possession of either a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.
How Does TASC Diversion Work?
TASC Diversion offers two programs for felony drug offenders. Both programs offer a combination of routine drug testing, education and counseling. The programs are:
- Possession of Marijuana Program – The program lasts for up to six months. A participant must complete a three-hour drug education seminar. If the participant tests positive for an illegal substance of any kind, including a pharmaceutical that has not been prescribed, the participant may need to attend group or individual counseling sessions.
- Possession of Narcotic or Dangerous Drugs Program – This program lasts for at least one year. A participant must:
- Complete a three-hour drug education seminar
- Complete substance abuse counseling (individual or group sessions)
- Attend 12-step meetings with an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
- Maintain monthly contact with a case manager (with phone or e-mail contact possible).
Again, if you successfully complete the program, the County Attorney will either drop prosecution (pre-filing) or file a Motion to Dismiss without Prejudice (post-filing).
However, if you fail to successfully complete the program, the prosecutor will file a Notice to Resume Prosecution. For instance, the County Attorney may resume prosecution if you:
- Withdraw from the program before you complete it
- Fail to complete terms and conditions within the program’s agreed-upon time frame
- Violate terms and conditions of the program
- Get arrested for or charged with a new offense while still in the program.
Are You a First-Time Drug Offender? Our Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
If you have been charged with a drug offense in Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, or elsewhere in Maricopa County, and you believe that you may qualify for deferred prosecution, a member of our criminal defense team at Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, would be glad to help you explore this option. We can also help you to pursue any other options that may be available to you.
We know what is at stake when you are facing criminal charges of any kind. Our goal is to help you to pursue the best possible outcome in your case. Contact us today to get started.
Zachary Mushkatel is an Arizona native who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in 2001 and his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2004. After serving as a public defender, he entered into private practice and, ultimately, joined forces with Mathis Becker to form the law firm known today as Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC. In addition to criminal law, Mushkatel practices civil litigation, with a focus on estate litigation and personal injury cases. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce and Sun Valley Lodge, and he is an executive officer and member of the Board of Directors for the West Maricopa County Bar Association.