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Courts and Alcoholics (2 tales)

Posted on : January 9, 2015, By:  Tom Kokonowski, Esq.

In my 20 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney, I have seen that 90-plus percent of the defendants in the district court are there because of alcohol or other substance abuse issues. Not everyone of them is necessarily alcoholic.

There is a difference between a “hard drinker” and an alcoholic. The main difference is that the hard drinker can stop when necessary, even though his drinking habits are the same as an alcoholic. The alcoholic, on the other hand, is unable to stop of his own will (or the will of others). So, there are instances when court-ordered programs and therapy, etc. actually work…for the hard drinker. It is the “real” alcoholic that frustrates the courts and everyone in their lives. No matter what order or request or probation condition…no matter how many times he is begged, no matter how much his kids are hurt, no matter how many people are harmed by his drinking…he still drinks.

Recently I experienced, first hand, two methods by which the court system tried to deal with alcoholics, on the same day.

One way, which I was involved with, was to go get the woman on a warrant of apprehension, have a psychologist speak to her for 20 minutes and opine that she should be locked up in a psychiatric hospital for 90 days.

The other, which I saw for the first time on this day, involved the judge, after sentencing an alcoholic to probation for his transgressions, handing him a sheet of paper with suggestions, written by a sober alcoholic, about what to do and look out for in early sobriety. The suggestion method will always be more productive than the “lock-em up…shove-it-down-their-throat” method when dealing with real alcoholics. Just ask anyone who has tried with family members or other loved ones who are real alcoholics.

Trying to force something on an alcoholic will only cause resistance and resentment. It is counter-intuitive, but an alcoholic should not be denied his pain. It is what ultimately will make him look at those suggestions. The judge, in my case, did not send the woman to the psychiatric lock-up after a full blown hearing. That was a good thing. Maybe not in a way that happens on everyone else’s timeline but it was a good thing for that alcoholic. I am heartened by the fact that a judge is handing out suggestions as part of his attempt to help  real alcoholics in his courtroom.

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