The Magistrates Referral into Early Treatment (MERIT) program is a diversionary program that is designed to help defendants with a substance abuse problem get access to treatment so they can address their issues, and hopefully reduce their chances of reoffending at a later date.
Although MERIT was set up to help defendants with drug abuse problems, more recently the MERIT program has combined with the Rural Alcohol Division to introduce the Alcohol MERIT program, which allows defendants with alcohol abuse problems access to the same support and treatment as drug offenders.
Alcohol MERIT only runs in selected locations, including at the MERIT Centre in Liverpool.
The program works in the same way as the drug-based MERIT, with offenders being given an individual rehabilitation program while they await their trial.
Their attendance and participation in the program will be taken into consideration at the time of sentencing.
Who is eligible for Alcohol MERIT?
There are a number of criteria that applicants must fulfil in order to be considered eligible for the Alcohol MERIT program.
These are the same as the eligibility for the drug-based MERIT program, and include:
- Defendants must be eligible for bail.
- Defendants must have a demonstrable alcohol problem, which is treatable.
- Defendants must be willing and able to participate in a rehabilitation program.
- Defendants must be approved for participation by a magistrate.
- Defendants must not be involved in any offences involving sexual assault or physical violence.
- The matter for which the defendant is attending court must be being heard in the local court, rather than in the district or supreme court.
What are the advantages of participating in Alcohol MERIT?
Participating in a rehabilitation program like MERIT has a number of advantages, the main one being that it gives participants the opportunity to address their alcohol dependence, and improve their health and lifestyle.
Successfully participating in Alcohol MERIT also demonstrates to the magistrate that the defendant is willing to tackle any underlying issues that might have led to their criminal charges, and by doing so hopefully reduces the likelihood of repeat offences.
This may lead the magistrate to look more favourably on the defendant during sentencing, and could mean they end up with a lighter penalty than they would otherwise have incurred.
What happens if a defendant doesn’t complete the program?
Non-completion of a MERIT program, or failing to abide by the terms and conditions of the program, can have a negative impact on the outcome of a defendant’s hearing.
The completion of the program generally coincides with the court hearing and sentencing, and how a defendant conducted themselves during the program will be taken into consideration by the magistrate.
Non-completion can lead to a harsher sentence being imposed, and the defendant is likely to lose the benefits of participating in the program.
Alcohol MERIT is not available at every court that participates in the MERIT program.
The MERIT centre in Liverpool is one of a selected number of courts that offer the MERIT program for those with alcohol dependence issues.
If you think you might be eligible for the alcohol MERIT program, a good first step is to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer.
They can advise you on whether the MERIT program would be suitable for you, and help you with the application process.