Interviewer: Is it automatic when someone’s caught possessing marijuana that they’re not going to go to jail, or does it still have to be fought for in the court system? Do you need an attorney to help you? Do you just get a simple possession case?
Michael Munoz: No. You need advice from an attorney. You need an attorney to educate you through the system and tell you what’s going to happen. Nothing is automatic.
The nice thing is this: on your first offense in Maricopa County courts, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, depending on a person’s criminal history and whether or not they’re eligible or not, will offer what they call the TASK program. The TASK program is essentially a series of drug testing and education classes, and if a person is able to pay for it and successfully complete it, the charges will get dismissed on successful completion of TASK. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office usually only offers TASK on your first offense.
The Potential Hazards of Self-Representation in a Drug Related Case
Interviewer: What would happen if you didn’t have an attorney and you thought, “It’s just possession or paraphernalia; I’ll go fight it myself”? What do you think would happen if somebody represented themselves versus being represented by counsel?
Michael Munoz: The first thing is a person would be going through a criminal justice system that is very complex and can be very confusing. Second, they’ll be probably appointed a public defender, and they are going to have to rely on the public defender and get all of their information about their case from the public defender.
It’s possible someone might be able to get TASK, but sometimes people can be ineligible for TASK based on prior criminal history and certain issues that the county attorney’s office looks for. Getting at least a consultation with an attorney is advisable.
An Overview of the TASK Program in the State of Arizona
Interviewer: What’s involved in TASK? How do you comply with this program? Do you have to do urine samples? What does it involve?
Michael Munoz: Yes. You’ll have to do random urine drug testing. You’ll also have to take some drug education classes. The TASK program can be pretty expensive, and they make you pay for all of your drug testing and all of your classes. The TASK program has different lengths determined based upon the kind of drug you were arrested for. Marijuana is about six months, but you can finish it early in three months if you have all clean urine tests, and you pay off all of your TASK fees.
Interviewer: What’s the approximate cost of the TASK program?
Michael Munoz: I don’t know at this time. It can be costly.
Failing A Urinalysis or Skipping A Test Can Potentially Result in Termination of the Program
Interviewer: What happens if you test dirty at TASK or don’t show up for a scheduled drug test? What happens?
Michael Munoz: If you have a dirty urinalysis or if you don’t show up, you risk TASK kicking you out of the program and essentially telling the county attorney you’re not complying with your agreement. If you get kicked out of TASK, then what happens is the county attorney’s office will reinstate the prosecution of those charges, and they will start prosecuting you all over again for that offense.
Interviewer: Are they lenient if you test dirty, or will they jump on you immediately?
Michael Munoz: Depending on whom you’re dealing with, sometimes they can be lenient, but I do not advise my clients to even test that water. I advise my clients that they don’t want to risk getting kicked out of TASK.
The County Attorney’s Office Has Certain Policies about When to Deny TASK
Interviewer: Are there cases where simple possession will not be eligible for TASK and they’ll be prosecuted?
Michael Munoz: Yes. The county attorney’s office has some policies when they won’t allow TASK. If a person has ever been convicted of a violent offense or an offense involving a gun, or if they’ve ever had TASK before, a lot of times the county attorney’s office will not reoffer the TASK program in those situations.
Interviewer: If you’ve been on TASK before, are you eligible for it again later on?
Michael Munoz: It’s rare. It’s possible, but it’s not guaranteed.