Drug charges equal high court costs
EAGLE – Defendants who were arrested for youthful indiscretions at the SnowBall Music Festival and other local concerts are cycling out of the local justice system, leaving enormous piles of American dollars in their wake. Many are due back in court early next month.
A beer at the SnowBall cost less than $10, but people arrested on drug distribution charges had to post bond amounts of up to $50,000. Lawyers could charge between $5,000 and $15,000 to defend someone charged with distribution, one local attorney said. For a minor in possession charge, the defendant can expect to spend up $2,500.
“That’s an expensive concert,” said District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.
Then there are fines and fees.
Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan handed down the state-mandated $1,000 fines for drug possession, in addition to drug surcharges of $1,250 for the lower-level drugs. The more serious drugs have a higher fine – up to $5,000.
Mountains of money
Then there are travel expenses. Most of the Snowball defendants are from out of the area, many from out of state, and they’re required to show up in Eagle County for their court appearances. For many that meant airline tickets and motel rooms.
An engineering student from a prestigious Wisconsin college flew into the Eagle County Airport on a Monday night for a Tuesday court appearance. He flew back an hour and a half after appearing before Sullivan, sentenced to probation and fines.
“This was my fault. I’m an 18-year-old kid and I made a mistake. I have absolutely learned my lesson,” he told Sullivan.
He had a little ecstasy in his pocket when he walked through the SnowBall gates. It’s a schedule I controlled substance – a major league drug.
It’s also a designer drug, which means you don’t really know what’s in it, Sullivan pointed out.
“You’re so smart. I can’t believe you would put these drugs into your brain,” Sullivan said.
A few, mostly facing misdemeanor possession charges, took their plea deals – fines, fees, some probation and a promise to stay out of trouble for four years. If they do, their case is dismissed and possibly sealed from public view. If they don’t, they may land in state prison.
“This is going to be a very important four years of your life,” Sullivan told a 20-year-old college student.
“I had a lapse in judgment that I deeply regret,” he told the judge. He’s majoring in speech and communications at a Front Range college.
Most of their SnowBall sins were – after a fashion – their original sins.
“I’ve never even been in detention,” said one young man, looking at Judge Sullivan like a deer staring down a semitrailer on Interstate 70.
A University of Colorado senior wants to be an attorney. She got her litigation initiation the hard way, standing before Sullivan. Charges like these on her record could get in the way of her career goals.
“A lot of these cases are sad. There is a compromise in your future now. Hopefully you’ll get past it and make it into something positive,” Sullivan told the group.
Their probation comes with 75 hours of community service. They’re not allowed any alcohol or drugs. If they’re busted for anything – anything at all – they could spend up to 18 months in state prison.
If they make it four years, the case is dismissed.
“It’s like a contract you’ve entered into with the District Attorney,” Sullivan said.
There’s dealing and there’s dealing
Prosecutors should start with misdemeanors, instead of scaring some of these kids with felony charges, said local attorney Adam Tucker.
“The plea offers in these cases seem to be contrary from what the legislature has indicated it wants from these drug cases,” Tucker said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he is not signing Senate Bill 163, which would reduce any possession charge with 4 ounces or less from a felony to a misdemeanor.
If they were dealing drugs, they get a felony, Hurlbert said. If the charge is possession, they get a deferred sentence and it can go away if they stay out of trouble and/or in treatment.
“With the possession cases, they have a chance to earn their way off,” Hurlbert said.
Dealing is different. If they’re dealing for money, they’re looking at a prison sentence, Hurlbert said.
If they were carrying some drugs and gave or sold some to their friends to try to recover some of their purchase price, they’ve probably been sufficiently scared that they’ll never darken a courtroom door again.
“There’s dealing and then there’s dealing,” Hurlbert said.
Most of those people will get a deferred sentence, usually four years. Pay your fines and court costs, and pay your attorney.
Eventually you can have the case sealed and it goes under the radar, after you spend some time, energy and thousands of dollars.
“For a person with an addiction, treatment is our first preference,” Hurlbert said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.