The federal court in Seattle is one of a few experimenting with specialized drug programs, which state courts have been doing for two decades, the Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, who helped start King County's drug court when he was a Superior Court judge in 1994, says the new federal pilot project will help some low-level defendants whose crimes were motivated by addiction get treatment and avoid a felony conviction while saving the government incarceration costs.
"People have this idea that federal court only handles the cartel guys," Martinez said. Under the program, defendants will enter a conditional guilty plea, and if they comply with a one- to two-year treatment program, their conviction will be vacated. Martinez worked with the U.S. Attorney's Office, federal Public Defender's Office and U.S. Probation to agree on criteria for defendants to be eligible, including that they not have violent or sexual offenses in their past; have no more than two prior felonies; and that mental-health issues be manageable. The program is starting small, with only 10 participants in the first year. Federal courts in Los Angeles, Illinois, and South Carolina have similar programs.