Judges Can Require Drug Users On Probation To Remain Drug-Free

Jonathan Wiggs, Staff Writer for the The Boston Globe reported that on July 16th Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that judges may jail someone with an addiction who is on probation if that person does not remain drug-free.

In a unanimous ruling, Supreme Judicial Court justices rejected the argument that it is unconstitutional to incarcerate someone who violates probation by relapsing because relapse is a symptom of the disease of addiction.

The decision centered on the case of Julie Eldred, who in 2016 was sentenced by a Concord District Court judge to 10 days in jail after she tested positive for fentanyl.

In a lawsuit, Eldred contended that the court had violated her constitutional rights by ordering her to remain drug-free because her substance use disorder made it “virtually impossible” for her to abstain through sheer will.

The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that judges, while they should consider the challenges of drug addiction, “must have the authority to detain a defendant” who has violated probation by using drugs.

“Such decisions should be made thoughtfully and carefully, recognizing that addiction is a status that may not be criminalized,” Justice David A. Lowy wrote for the seven-member court. “But judges cannot ignore the fact that relapse is dangerous for the person who may be in the throes of addiction and, often times, for the community in which that person lives.”