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Addiction – Fairfax criminal lawyer on breaking addictive behavior

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Addiction relates to many criminal defendants’ cases, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Addiction is an issue for numerous criminal defense clients, particularly in DUI, drug possession, and sex cases alleging child pornography and indecent liberties. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I repeatedly recommend substance programs to my Virginia DUI and drug clients, and psychological counseling for clients accused for sex and child pornography crimes. The quality and content of such programs, counseling and treatment varies, and I endeavor to only recommend quality programs and counselors. At the same time, I tell clients that while I prefer the abolition of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program — which is required for a Virginia DWI conviction — VASAP is not guaranteed to agree for a private program to substitute for counseling that VASAP itself provides.

Should I feel uncomfortable about being recommended into professional counseling? No.

When my client is accused of criminal or DUI activity, I commonly recommend self improvement steps to help with any case negotiations or sentencing. Certainly, my clients include completely innocent people, and I emphasize to my clients that they are all presumed innocent, and are free to follow my self-improvement recommendations or not. Because judges and jurors on too many occasions convict innocent people, even innocent criminal defendants who recognize that they may be at risk of becoming such a statistic might therefore be interested in engaging in such self improvement as voluntary community service (which helps society no matter what), alcohol or drug education — whether for addiction or otherwise — or counseling when charged with such offenses, anger management for assault cases, and theft classes for larceny cases.

Am I admitting guilt by getting counseling for addiction or for other purposes?

Some of my clients are concerned whether their engaging in such self improvement concerning addiction or otherwise is an admission of guilt. I reply that if the prosecutor is pursuing their case, the prosecutor holds open the possibility that they are guilty, and is not likely going to be negatively swayed — rather than possibly positively motivated — about the criminal defendant if the accused person engages in self improvement efforts. Moreover, the judge is not expected to learn of such self improvement information other than for bond hearings (where the only direction a criminal defendant can go is up, if on a no-bond status) and sentencing (where the criminal defendant has already been convicted).

What is the importance of empathy and compassion by one’s criminal defense lawyer? Huge.

To be sure, numerous criminal defendants are innocent and should not have been charged with an offense. Others are not non-culpable, but are accused of crimes that should not be crimes in the first place (for instance marijuana, adult prostitution and gambling) or crimes that are too harshly sentenced, including the Virginia penalties and voluntary sentencing guidelines even for low-level drug sales. Criminal defense is a healing art in some respects, not only in terms of pursuing acquittals and the most favorable dispositions, but also in terms of being a source of moral support for the client and helping to point the path for overcoming addiction and other challenges. Plenty of my clients tell very few people (if anyone) other than me that they are being prosecuted. Plenty share with me stories of childhood abuse that they have told few others about, and about PTSD, high job stress and other challenges at home and at work, even among some of the most accomplished people in their careers. I am here to defend my clients, never to judge them. I have full compassion for them, see them as my equal, and learn many vital lessons from many of them.

Letting my clients find their own best path for breaking addictive behavior

A client who was already in intensive drug rehabilitation when he hired me told me of mindfulness being an important part of his addiction recovery. He was surprised when I told him how involved I have been in mindfulness for many years, including some past involvement with the lawyers mindfulness movement.  client did not know about this part of me, because I believe in my clients finding the recovery paths that suit them, aside from my recommending programs for them to consider attending. When they ask me what I know about mindfulness and meditation, I am able to tell them that both start from focusing on the present moment, which can be assisted by focusing on one’s breath, and that great ways to learn and pursue both include Jon Kabat-Zinn’s presentation at Google (which has been a leader in making mindfulness training available to its team), Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners, and, for those in and near Northern Virginia, such great mindfulness and meditation teachers as Jonathan Foust, Hugh Byrne, and Tara Brach, all of whose sessions I have attended with great results.

How important is it for a criminal defense lawyer to get to know the people who are counseling their clients for addictive behavior and other matters?

I check with my clients about what they are learning through counseling and programs, how well or not the professionals are dealing with them, the extent to which they are approaching my clients empathetically rather than the paternalistic approach that I disfavor, and how much benefit my clients get from such professionals and their counseling. I also take the time to talk with various addiction and psychological counselors to better understand their programs, approach to counseling, personae, view of my clients and their challenges, recommendations for my clients’ improvement and counseling, and insights into my clients’ progress with counseling.

What causes addictive behavior when physical addiction is not involved?

Some addictions are physical, for instance with alcohol and many drugs. Other addictions are instead psychological, including Internet, pornography, and gambling. Eating disorders can be both. People are going to respond best to breaking addictions not to counselors who tell them they are failures, but with counselors who understand and are compassionate about where they are coming from, provide good tailor-made recommendations for breaking their addictions and remaining abstinent, revisit and tweak those plans depending on the pace of progress and instances of relapse, and encourage the benefits of hard and dedicated work to breaking addiction. Many drug and alcohol counselors are themselves recovering drug abusers and alcoholics, already understanding the plight of people seeking sobriety.

What is the relationship between addiction and escaping reality?

I came across the concept that addictive behavior is about escaping reality rather than being addicted to the substance. That might be true beyond the physical addictiveness of drugs and alcohol. A good addictions counselor is certainly going to be cognizant of this possibility and is going to want to understand how the client relates to and copes with reality.

Recently I read Swan Keyes’ account of her late mother, Tova Gabrielle, who was a specialist in relapse prevention. (Linked and referenced here with Swan’s permission.) She liked helping addicts for their spirit-seeking despite any destructive behavior. Tova saw their seeking the high they would have found if the real world were more balanced. She recognized relapse as a part of the path to breaking addiction, with creativity, connectedness and spiritually rooting as keys to breaking addiction. If only all counselors were like that.

What role does a good criminal defense lawyer play in working with clients with an addiction?

While a lawyer is not a psychological or addiction counselor, one’s criminal defense lawyer is an important go-between with the client’s counselor, and can clearly articulate the lawyer’s recommendations to the client, can address any breakthroughs and obstacles the client is having with counseling and the counselor, and can be clear to the counselor what the lawyer seeks in terms of counseling goals and obtaining initial and progress reports or letters from the counselor that will be in a format that are beneficial for using with case negotiations and with the court for any bond hearings and any sentencing.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz works as a team with his clients every step of the way in pursuing their best possible case result. This starts with his preparing a tailor-made defense action plan for each client charged with a Virginia felony, misdemeanor or DUI. Call 703-383-1100 for a free in-person consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending case.