Standards on Substance Abuse: Standard VI. Indications of substance abuse

Standards prepared by the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Substance Abuse

Table of Contents

Standard VI

All judges and court personnel should look for indications of substance abuse that may be a factor related to a case before the court.


Indications of Substance Abuse in Criminal and Delinquency Cases

There can be at least seven sources of information which suggest that substance abuse may be a factor related to the case:

  1. The offense title. Any criminal offense can involve substance abuse. For some offenses, however, substance abuse generally appears more likely - a drug or alcohol related offense, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, assault and battery, malicious destruction of property, leaving the scene of an accident, breaking and entering, larceny, prostitution, and shoplifting.
  2. The actual allegations. The statement that an offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or was otherwise related to substance abuse may appear in the information provided by the District Attorney, such as the police report, or in the clerk's file, among allegations presented at the hearing on an application for a criminal complaint.
  3. The criminal record. In general, a history of offenses which probably involve substance abuse may be discerned from a defendant's criminal record. Even a first offense, however, may merit inquiry regarding substance abuse.
  4. Abuse prevention order. In cases when an order against domestic violence is sought in connection with the criminal complaint or has been issued previously, the affidavit in support of the application may allege substance abuse or reveal facts suggesting substance abuse.
  5. A party's demeanor or physical appearance. Substance abuse may be indicated if the party appears agitated, glassy-eyed, unkempt, or unsteady, or if the party smells of alcohol. Judges and other court personnel should be aware, however, that slurring of speech or tremors can also be symptoms of neurological or metabolic illnesses.
  6. A party may identify himself or herself as a substance abuser, and request referral to a detoxification center or treatment program.
  7. The victim of a crime, the police officer, a family member, or others may provide information about an offender's substance abuse.

Indications of substance abuse in civil cases

In cases involving divorce or paternity-related custody, termination of parental rights, guardianship of minors, or applications for restraining orders under G.L. c. 209A, factors similar to those listed for criminal cases may indicate that substance abuse is involved. In addition, substance abuse may be present if the parents are alleged to have left children unattended or to have frequently left children with friends or neighbors while staying out late, or if parents are charged with a criminal offense. In other kinds of cases, substance abuse may be indicated by sudden or persistent financial difficulties.

Determination that substance abuse is a factor

Judges and court personnel should be alert to other interpretations of the indications listed. Counsel may wish to be heard on the issue of whether substance abuse is a factor in the case.

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