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Court Discusses Mental Hygiene Law

The accused husband and wife were charged with a violation of the Penal Law. They were arraigned and each pleaded not guilty. A New York Criminal Lawyer said on the same date the charge was amended to attempted petit larceny. The husband and his wife changed their pleas to guilty of the amended charge. The sentence was deferred pending a pre-sentence report and a medical examination pursuant to the Mental Hygiene Law, to determine if the accused husband and his wife were narcotic addicts.

Pursuant to the District Court’s order, the accused wife was examined by a doctor, and her husband was examined by a separate doctor, on March 8, 1973. The reports of the doctors certified that each of the accused was a narcotic addict, within the meaning of such term, as defined in the Mental Hygiene Law. Each of the accused denied being a narcotic addict. They both waived a jury and addiction hearings were held separately for each of the accused husband and wife.

The undisputed testimony is that each of the accused husband and wife has not used heroin for a period of over two years, and during that period of time, each has been on a State of New York approved program of methadone maintenance. The question before the District Court is to determine whether the complainants have met their burden of proving heroin addiction by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence despite the fact that the accused husband and wife admittedly have not used heroin (heroin possession) for over two years.

As it read at the time of the violation, the law defined a narcotic addict as a person who is at the time of examination dependent upon opium, heroin, morphine, or any derivative or synthetic drug of that group or who by reason of the repeated use of any such drug is in imminent danger of becoming dependent upon opium, heroin, morphine, or any derivative or synthetic drug of that group; provided, however, that no person shall be deemed a narcotic addict solely by virtue of his taking of any of such drugs pursuant to a lawful prescription issued by a practitioner in the course of professional treatment for legitimate medical purposes.

The complainant contend that the accused husband and his wife admit that at one time they were heroin addicts and the only reason they are not presently taking heroin is because they are on methadone program which has blocked their craving to take heroin. The accused couple’s defense is that the complainant have failed to prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that either of the accused are, or were, at the time of the examination heroin addicts, or that they were in imminent danger of becoming dependent upon heroin or any derivative of that group.

The complainant in support of its contention relies upon the decisions of the Nassau County Court. The County Court has carefully reviewed the decisions reached in the aforementioned addiction hearings. It is interesting to note that the doctor who examined the husband is the same doctor who testified for the complainant in a similar case, as well as in the herein hearing of the husband.

A judge, in his prior court decision appears to have reached the conclusion that the heroin addict, if he fails for any reason to take his methadone, the addict will find that he is still addicted. If he were not so addicted, it would not be necessary, of course, for him to take methadone.

The County Court disagrees with that conclusion. A Manhattan Criminal Lawyer said the testimony of the doctors who examined the husband and the wife indicates that some addicts have been cured under the methadone program. The judge in his decision refers to the doctor who examined the husband’s testimony indicating that the husband in that case would still be considered in his opinion to be an addict until the time of at least three years had expired after he had suspended the use of methadone and during that period he had not reverted to the use of heroin. A similar statement by the doctor was made when he was a witness in the accused husband’s addiction hearing.

In an attempt to learn more about the subject the Court has made its own independent research. Based upon its own research, the Court finds that unfortunately no reliable statistics are available to indicate the percentage of methadone users who discontinue its use that return to heroin use. Nor is there any reliable information to indicate any guidelines one should use to determine the possibilities of a methadone user reverting to heroin use. The authorities are in general agreement that patients in methadone treatment programs experience a great reduction in the use of drugs, a decrease in the amount of criminal act related to their addiction, an increase in the ability to become self-employed and a concurrent decrease in the amount of welfare assistance to these patients. However, none of these accomplishments resulting from the methadone treatment programs assist the Court in rendering its decision in determining whether the accused husband and his wife are heroin addicts. Nevertheless, the Court has concluded that each case must be determined on its own facts and not upon the conclusion that while one is taking methadone under a New York State approved program he is still a heroin addict.

The use or lack of use of heroin at a given time is just one factor to be considered in determining whether the accused is presently a narcotic addict. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said one must look at the composite pattern of behavior. The Court is in full agreement with her statement and therefore rejects the accused husband and wife’s contention that they should be found to be non addicts because they have refrained from using heroin for more than two years.

In determining the question of addiction, the Court must take many things into consideration. The doctor who examined the husband, in his testimony during the hearing testified that he is of the opinion based upon his conversations with his fellow doctors, who work with methadone patients, that 50% of those who are on methadone return to the use of heroin once they discontinue using methadone. The question the Court has to determine is whether the accused husband and his wife will fall into which 50%.

The Court in reaching its decision has taken the following factors into consideration. The length of time each accused was on heroin; the period of time in an approved methadone program; results attained in the program; the attendance at such program; any relapses; previous medical history; motivation, character, will and desire to overcome desire to take heroin; present activities, including employment, social, etc.

Based upon the testimony and exhibits admitted into evidence in each of the hearings, and using the factors just recited, the Court finds that in the matter of the wife, that the complainant have failed to meet its burden of proof by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, and therefore find the accused wife not to be a narcotic addict.

In the matter of the husband, that the complainant has met its burden of proof by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence and therefore find the accused husband to be a narcotic addict.

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