Council passes changes to tribal drug court

by Sep 7, 2018NEWS ka-no-he-da





It initially appeared to be a proposal to repeal the tribal drug court, but a substitute ordinance actually made for an easier process for addicted offenders to obtain treatment through the court system.

Tribal Council passed a proposal to change the section of Cherokee Code that provides for the drug court during its regular session on Thursday, Sept. 6, however, the same services to provide recovery will be provided by the courts. The changes passed by Council are intended to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The name of the drug court was changed to Tsu-Na-Da-Ne-Tsi-Tv-Sdi-Yi or Cherokee Wellness Court.

With a goal of encouraging sobriety among substance-addicted offenders, the drug court was established in 2009. It would offer treatment along with rewards and sanctions in an effort to fight addiction. The ordinance passed on Thursday would make the process to obtain treatment through the courts easier.

The initial proposal was to repeal the section of code that provided the drug court. “It wasn’t my intention to repeal the entire thing,” said Cherokee Chief Justice Kirk Saunooke. “It was a misstep on my part.”

With the substitute ordinance accepted by Council, the section of Cherokee Code was amended to read that the court would implement a comprehensive court program that blends treatment and sanction alternatives with rehabilitation while considering the safety of the community.

Vice Chairman David Wolfe spoke of the need to distinguish between the dealers and the users. He said many of the users need help, and he voiced support for combining rehabilitation with consequences. “Most of it was having to do with mental health, which leads to the drug problem.”

The court’s new name, translated from Cherokee, means, “Where they have a change of heart.” The court takes participants referred from the Cherokee Court once they’ve pleaded guilty or have been convicted of a crime related to drug abuse or addiction.

Rules of evidence won’t apply in this court, and any information obtained or disclosed will be confidential and exempt from public information disclosure, unless a judge orders disclosure. These are rules that pertain to burden of proof, admissibility, relevance, weight and sufficiency for criminal and civil proceedings.

“They need to be able to share with us whatever they want to share,” said Associate Judge Shannon Swimmer, who added that when the evidence rules aren’t followed, they can be more open. “We want it to be more of an easier interaction with the participants.”

Wolfe said, “My goal was to pool all the resources to get them the help they need.”

Swimmer said this would provide a more well-rounded approach. “That’s really what we’re trying to do.”

Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha asked about ensuring that victims of crimes, such as breaking and entering, are getting a sense of justice through restitution.  “Where’s the balance there?  I know we want to help them, but yet still we want to help the ones who were taken from.”

Saunooke said it’s a balanced approach to try to help those who need it while making the victims whole.