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Failure to pass drug court program puts multiple felon back behind bars

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CANTON — Failure to stick to drug court programs has resulted in a Hermon woman’s return to prison for six years.

Valerie A. Cleveland, 39, of 1517 County Route 17, had been a part of the Judicial Diversion Program for a year and two months after pleading guilty May 30, 2012, to third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, both class B felonies.

Ms. Cleveland was twice terminated from the program, which aims to give individuals convicted of drug- and alcohol-related criminal offenses a chance to reduce their sentences by undergoing counseling and weekly drug testing and getting a job or pursuing an education.

The offender’s failure to complete the one- to two-year program allows the judge to send the person to state prison.

After being ousted from the program in January and again in February, Ms. Cleveland appeared Thursday before Judge Jerome J. Richards in St. Lawrence County Court.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Botts requested that she receive the maximum term of 12 years in prison on each count with three years’ post-release supervision, served consecutively.

Mr. Botts said the DA’s office wanted the court to recognize Ms. Cleveland as a second felony offender. She is listed as a Level 2 registered sex offender for a Jan. 29, 2007, conviction for third-degree criminal sex act, a class E felony; a March 18, 2005, conviction in Jefferson County for fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a class D felony; and a Dec. 13, 2004, conviction for third-degree welfare fraud, a class D felony.

Conflict Defender Amy Dona, who represented Ms. Cleveland, said her client had struggled with addiction to pain pills due to a medical condition; however, her failure to complete the programs was not caused by drug abuse but altercations. Additionally, Ms. Dona said, Ms. Cleveland faced problems finding additional treatment due to her sex-offender status.

Ms. Dona said Ms. Cleveland knew she was facing prison time and asked the judge to consider a reduced sentence of three to six years.

Given the opportunity to address the court, Ms. Cleveland began crying, telling the judge that while in jail she began her rehabilitation by turning down multiple chances to use drugs, and that during the time of her father’s death, she had a moment of pride when she returned to jail sober.

“I’ll never self-medicate again,” she told Judge Richards. “For that lesson I thank you.”

The judge told her that the drug court program isn’t meant to be easy and requires many hoops to be jumped through.

“People believe it is a trap and that you will end up in jail anyway,” Judge Richards said. “That’s just not true.”

He said that given Ms. Cleveland’s criminal history, the program would require more time to help her.

“You entered your plea one year and two months ago,” Judge Richards told her. “How do you ask someone who has lived a certain way for 12 to 15 years to change in one year and two months? It takes time.”

He credited her with some positive changes but said that would not keep her from prison.

Ms. Cleveland was sentenced to six years for each charge as a second felony offender, to be served concurrently with three years’ post-release supervision.

She also was ordered to pay $750 in court fines, fees and surcharges and $497.73 in restitution to the DA’s office for the amount it paid to subpoena a confidential informant.

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