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Cruz v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 3, 2017

Paz Cruz, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

          Submitted April 19, 2017

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CMD-3591-15) (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Motion Judge)

          Gregory W. Gardner was on the brief for appellant.

          Charming D. Phillips, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, and Anwar Graves, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Fisher, Beckwith and Easterly, Associate Judges.

          Beckwith, Associate Judge.

         Appellant Paz Cruz, charged with simple assault, [1] moved under D.C. Code § 24-607 (b) (2012 Repl.)[2] to be treated for alcoholism in lieu of being prosecuted. The trial court denied Mr. Cruz's motion, apparently relying on a Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) officer's representation that PSA had previously recommended "intensive outpatient treatment" and that Mr. Cruz had "said he [did not] want it." The record does not indicate what significance the trial court attached to the officer's representation or whether the court considered other factors in denying Mr. Cruz's motion. Concluding that the record is inadequate to demonstrate that the trial court properly exercised its discretion, we vacate the court's denial of Mr. Cruz's motion and remand the case for further consideration.


         Two weeks before his scheduled trial date, Mr. Cruz, through counsel, filed a "motion for treatment in lieu of criminal prosecution." Mr. Cruz asserted that he would "voluntarily" submit to "treatment for chronic alcoholism, " and asked the court to "conduct a civil hearing" to determine whether he qualified for alcoholism treatment in lieu of prosecution under D.C. Code § 24-607 (b). Mr. Cruz proffered that PSA had "found that [he] is in need of treatment and [had] recommended intensive outpatient treatment, " and he also proffered that "[t]here are adequate and appropriate programs, such as APRA, [3] that are able to provide such [treatment]." The government filed a memorandum in opposition to Mr. Cruz's motion, arguing that "civil commitment under § 24-607 should only be used in the rarest of occurrences" and that Mr. Cruz had failed to meet "the statutory requirements." The government specifically noted that Mr. Cruz had not proffered a "medical diagnosis" in support of his claim that he is a "chronic alcoholic."

         The trial court heard argument on the motion at a subsequent status hearing. In response to the argument raised by the government in its opposition memorandum, Mr. Cruz's counsel acknowledged that Mr. Cruz had not received a medical diagnosis of alcohol dependency. Counsel represented, however, that Mr. Cruz was "willing to . . . [be] assessed" and requested that a hearing on Mr. Cruz's motion "be scheduled for another date to allow [counsel] to obtain an expert to conduct an analysis." The trial court questioned why Mr. Cruz had not already sought a diagnosis: "[I]t is a little difficult to walk in on the trial date, [4] although you filed this a few days ago, and say we oughta have him-we oughta have the client examined by a medical doctor." Mr. Cruz's counsel responded that he had waited to seek relief under § 24-607 (b) because he had initially "tried to explore community service"-since Mr. Cruz did not have any prior convictions-but that this proposal had been "denied."[5] Counsel further explained that he had been trying to "conserve resources in getting an expert"-he did not want to expend funds on an expert if the court was going to deny the motion in any case.[6]

         The prosecutor responded by arguing that Mr. Cruz's proposed treatment option, APRA, "does [not] do civil commitments." The prosecutor further represented that he had concerns about whether "Mr. Cruz . . . want[ed] to be civilly committed to [the] hospital for his chronic alcoholism." The prosecutor contended that "[t]his isn't just going to an outpatient treatment and going back home. This is civil commitment." Mr. Cruz's counsel responded that D.C. Code § 24-607 (b) did not require "commitment, per se, " and that "in th[is] day and age what we're dealing with is treatment." Counsel acknowledged, however, that inpatient commitment "obviously . . . is an option if deemed necessary." The trial court noted that under § 24-607 (b), Mr. Cruz "could wind up in a hospital for" up to 180 days-the maximum sentence for simple assault-and asked, "[I]s that something he wants?" Mr. Cruz's counsel replied, "What he wants is treatment for his alcoholism."

         The court stated that Mr. Cruz "can have treatment . . . through the regular criminal process" rather than through § 24-607 (b). The court asked a PSA officer who was present in the courtroom "what PSA offers in [a] situation like this." The officer responded:

The Defendant's assessment that he received previously indicated intensive outpatient treatment. So, that's the level, but below residential. And from my understanding[, ] when the Defendant reported to our office, which he has continuously done, he's never taken up the opportunity to participate in treatment. He said he doesn't want it.

         After hearing from the PSA officer, the trial court denied Mr. Cruz's motion. The court indicated that the general basis for the denial was the PSA officer's ...

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