In March, a 29-year-old Hagerstown man was sentenced in Washington County Circuit Court to 10 years in prison for heroin distribution.

Two months later he received another seven years for violating probation on a 2010 cocaine distribution conviction, the violation having been triggered by his conviction in the heroin case.

In October he was back in court, this time to be committed to the custody of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for inpatient residential drug treatment at Mountain Manor Treatment Center in Emmitsburg, Md., according to court records.

Treatment was to begin later this month, court records said. The court order also stated that the commitment would end upon successful completion or termination of treatment.

If the man successfully completes the inpatient treatment program, he could be released back to society, despite the 17 years he was originally ordered to serve.

Two sets of numbers are frequently heard in circuit court in cases in which the defendant has a drug or alcohol addiction issue: “8-505” and “8-507.”

Defense attorneys, or in some cases the defendants themselves, will file petitions with the court asking for a Maryland Health General Article 8-505 drug evaluation, the first step in possible modification of a person’s sentence to inpatient drug or alcohol treatment.

“The sentencing judge has to order the evaluation and the state also has the opportunity to be heard” to argue for or against granting the evaluation, said Hagerstown attorney David Harbin, who has filed a number of petitions on behalf of clients.

The number of petitions for 8-505 evaluations and 8-507 modifications has increased during the past two years, according to court records, with 77 filed through the end of November, compared to 61 last year.

“I have filed more 8-505/8-507 petitions recently, particularly in the past two or three years,” said Hagerstown attorney Andrea Cheeatow. “If my client has a history of drug abuse, the state will either consent to the filing of an 8-505, or defer. However, it is case specific, so if a client does not have a history, then (the state) is more likely to (not) object.”

‘Last resort’

The 8-505 petition does not require a court hearing and is often granted or denied without one, Harbin said.

If the evaluation does recommend inpatient treatment, it is then up to the sentencing judge to grant or deny the 8-507 order, Harbin said.

“The 8-505 and 8-507 programs are often the last resort for defendants so they can get treatment and get released from incarceration,” Harbin said.

However, sometimes he has tried to get clients involved in long-term treatment before they are jailed or imprisoned, he said.

Plea agreements on occasion contain language to the effect the state will not oppose an 8-507 modification at some point in the future, but there are cases that Washington County State’s Attorney Charles Strong says his office will oppose an 8-507 modification.

“We have opposed it in situations where there are violent offenders,” Strong said.

His office has seen petitions from people convicted of homicide, armed robbery, even from people convicted of offenses committed while serving other sentences, such as possession of contraband or weapons in prison, he said.

His office generally opposes those petitions in cases of people convicted of dealing large amounts of narcotics, or with being part of an organized distribution ring, Strong said.

“Otherwise, we look at them individually,” Strong said. “Judges ultimately have the discretion” to grant or deny the petitions.

“Individuals with sex offenses may not be approved due to concerns regarding public safety,” said Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“Individual referrals are assessed to determine their need for treatment” based on American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria, according to Garrett. “Additionally, referrals are assessed to ensure that they are motivated for treatment.”

Commitments for 8-507 placements are open-ended and depend on how long a person requires treatment at a given level of care, Garrett said. Those decisions are also based on ASAM criteria, he said.

Demand increase

Filing the motion does not automatically guarantee a defendant either the evaluation or modification of their sentence to a treatment facility. An evaluator may determine that the person does not have a severe enough addiction issue, or that they would not benefit from inpatient treatment.

Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson said the program fits in with the philosophy of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, which calls for a greater focus on treatment over incarceration, and the Justice Reinvestment Act, passed earlier this year.

About 500 commitments are made each year, but “demand for these placements has increased in the past few years,” Garrett said. The cost varies from program to program, but an average per-day cost for residential treatment is about $160 to $170, he said.

Being in a long-term inpatient treatment program is not a guarantee the offender will not be going back to prison.

“Generally, the person placed (in treatment) is still in custody, so walking off could be considered an escape and lead to new charges,” said Wilson, who is also a Republican representing Washington County in the state House of Delegates.

“Failure to complete the 8-507 treatment … is considered a violation of probation,” Cheeatow said. “The judge could impose the balance of the client’s sentence” should they be discharged from a program, or have a drug relapse, she said.

Harbin said he believes the success rate for his clients admitted into treatment has been “better than 50 percent.”

“I have tracked my clients and, well, the jury is still out,” Cheeatow said. “With the influx of heroin, I am noticing a higher rate of recidivism. Some of my clients are doing well so far and some are not.”

Kicking an addiction such as heroin can take a person more than one try, she said.

While 8-505 evaluations and 8-507 treatments have been available for years, Cheeatow noted that Washington County judges now have the option of assigning qualified offenders to the county’s Day Reporting Center.

by: Don Aines