MOUNT VERNON — Before being given a year of drug treatment as an opportunity to wipe away felony charges, Gregory Krall was carefully vetted by the court for intervention in lieu of conviction.
Intervention in lieu of conviction (ILC) gives a shot at escaping a criminal record. To get there, however, the offender must complete an intensive year of treatment and maintain their sobriety while the possibility of jail or prison hangs over their head. It’s a lot like probation, except that when it’s over, the charges are dismissed.
ILC is granted to eligible individuals who can convince a judge that an underlying drug habit or drinking problem was a factor in the commission of the crime they have been charged with. It is open to defendants in municipal court, who have been charged with certain misdemeanors, and in common pleas, where more serious felony charges are heard. The idea is that if the drug or alcohol problem can be treated, the risk that the individual will re-offend goes away.
The eligibility process starts with the defendant’s attorney filing for ILC. The defendant is evaluated by court staff and drug rehabilitation specialists and/or medical personnel to see if drugs or alcohol played a role in the criminal offense. If the court finds the defendant is eligible, the defendant enters a guilty plea. The plea is held in abeyance, and if ILC is successfully completed, the charges are dismissed.
An important part of the assessment process includes whether it appears the defendant is a good candidate for ILC. Usually, the best candidates have already taken some steps toward recovery from their substance abuse habit, Melissa Body, program director with The Freedom Center, said.
“We look at where they are at in the stages of change — pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action,” Body said. “Those in the contemplative, preparation or action stages tend to make the best candidates. They are trying to change, or are preparing to quit. The action stage is when they are doing it.”
The assessment process also looks at whether the crime is out of character, were it not for drug or alcohol use, Body said.
The Freedom Center, along with other area addiction recovery specialists, will often be involved in the one-year ILC process. They will help craft the recovery plan and communicate with court staff on progress.
Probation authorities in both common pleas court and municipal court say ILC works and has a high success rate.
However, for ILC to work, getting sober, rather than just avoiding a felony, must be the focus, Common Pleas Chief Probation Officer Lisa Lyons said. Lyons said that some ILC applicants have been rejected because the person does not pursue it for the right reasons, and granting ILC would be setting them up to fail.
“Their goal should not be to get rid of a felony, the goal should be to live a clean life,” Lyons said. “Many make it through with flying colors and go on to do wonderful things in their lives. It is up to the person whether they want to do it or not. ”
Municipal Court Probation Chief David Priest said ILC is underutilized in municipal court, with only seven applicants in three years. Of those, two were found ineligible. Four of the five who were granted ILC successfully completed the program. The one individual who did not complete ILC completed probation successfully a year later, Priest said.
Priest said probation and ILC are often similar, except that ILC is more intensive and therefore harder. Also, the penalty for failure can be more severe. Failing to follow probation rules and programming can result in further sanctions including community service or increased supervision, Priest said, as well as jail time. Failing to complete ILC in municipal court usually means only one sanction is open — jail time.
Failure to complete ILC doesn’t mean the opportunity will never come up again. Due to recent changes in the ILC laws, individuals can get more than one bite at the apple, Knox County Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville said. Previously, only first-time offenders were eligible, who had never completed or tried ILC. With the new laws, certain felony offenses can not be used to bar eligibility, and a past shot at ILC, whether completed unsuccessfully or successfully, does exclude another chance at it.
McConville said he is in favor of granting ILC, where it is applicable.
“Locking someone up doesn’t make sense unless we’ve tried everything else prior to it,” McConville.