Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Sentence reduction for substance abuse treatment

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 31, 2023

Sentence reduction for substance abuse treatment

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 31, 2023

Where defendant has moved for a sentence modification after completing several substance abuse treatment programs, the court finds that it has jurisdiction to hear the motion and that the programs meet statutory requirements.


Defendant Spangler is currently serving two sentences, one for distributing Schedule I and II narcotics, another for violating the terms and conditions of his probation.

“In each of the two February 25, 2019 Orders, this Court ordered Mr. Spangler to enter a substance abuse treatment program envisioned by Virginia Code § 18.2-254.”

Spangler has successfully completed several treatment programs and seeks a sentence modification on that basis.

“[T]he Court’s ruling on this Motion requires resolution of two issues: (1) jurisdiction to hear the motion and (2) whether Mr. Spangler’s participation in substantially similar substance abuse treatment programs satisfies the requirements of Virginia Code § 18.2-254.”


“With respect to the Court’s jurisdiction to hear Mr. Spangler’s motion, this Court has only to look to the statute at issue.

“Under Virginia Code § 18.2-254, the General Assembly imbued this Court with the authority to modify a sentence based on the incarcerated individual’s participation in treatment for substance abuse:

“‘The court may revoke such commitment at any time and transfer the person to an appropriate state or local correctional facility.

“‘Upon presentation of a certified statement from the director of the treatment facility to the effect that the confined person has successfully responded to treatment, the court may release such confined person prior to the termination of the period of time for which such person was confined and may suspend the remainder of the term upon such conditions as the court may prescribe.’ …

“Clearly, this Court has authority to modify a sentence once the Court has made a referral to the substance abuse treatment program, in this case the Therapeutic Community, envisioned in the statute.

“Especially considering the multiple months it would take an incarcerated individual to participate in and successfully complete or be removed from the program, depriving the Court of authority to modify a sentence after the twenty-one day period would render the statute entirely toothless.”

Substantially similar programs

“[T]he Court addresses an issue of first impression in the wake of the Covid-19 global pandemic: may an incarcerated individual avail themselves of the benefits of Virginia Code§ 18.2- 254 by completing substantially similar, but not identical, programs as identified in the statute.

“As indicated above, this Court ordered Mr. Spangler ‘to serve his time in the Therapeutic Community, if eligible.’ According to the statute, such a Therapeutic Community is described as follows:

“‘The treatment or education shall be provided by a program or agency licensed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services or by a similar program or services available through the Department of Corrections if the court imposes a sentence of one year or more[.]’ Virginia Code § l 8.2-254(A), emphasis added.

“The statute envisions ‘similar program[s] or services’ and the Court’s analysis turns to whether the programs completed by Mr. Spangler substantially comply with the reasonable alternatives envisioned by the statute.

“Similarly, Virginia Code § l 8.2-254(B) provides that a Court may commit a defendant ‘to any facility for the treatment of persons with substance abuse, licensed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, if space is available in such facility, for a period of time not in excess of the maximum term of imprisonment specified as a penalty for conviction of such offense[.]’

“Here, Mr. Spangler attempted to comply with this Court’s prior Order by participating in the Therapeutic Community. However, due to circumstances beyond the control of Mr. Spangler or the Department of Corrections, the Covid-19 global pandemic forced the close of the Therapeutic Community program.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Spangler has spent his period of incarceration participating in Narcotics Anonymous, successfully completing 240 hours of course materials provided by the Stratford Career Institute with an overall grade of 99%, and, most significantly, completed an eight-month Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Course for Substance Abuse (CBI-SA) provided through the Augusta Correctional Center.

“The determination by the Department of Corrections’ own substance abuse counselor is that Mr. Spangler ‘exemplifies all the qualities nurtured by the Department of Corrections and does not require any further treatment.’

“In short, given the extraordinary obstacles and impediments created by the Covid-19 global pandemic, Mr. Spangler persevered and completed all the essential requirements of Virginia Code § 18.2-254 through substantially similar programs which provided him skills and coping tools to combat his substance abuse struggles upon reentry – the precise purpose and intent of the statute.

“Therefore, this Court finds that Mr. Spangler has completed the requirements of Virginia Code§ 18.2-254 through ‘similar program[s] or services available through the Department of Corrections.’

“Given the authority provided this Court by the statute, the Court hereby modifies the remaining period of active incarceration to allow for Mr. Spangler’s release pursuant to statute.”

Commonwealth v. Spangler, Case Nos. CR18-268, CR18-269, CR18-270 and CR18-271 CR15-152, CR15-153, CR15-154, CR15-155 and CR15-156, March 3, 2023. Floyd County Circuit Court (Fleenor Jr.). G. Bradley McConnell, W. Eric Branscom, W. Eric Branscom for the parties. VLW 023-8-025, 17 pp.

VLW 023-8-025

Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Verdicts & Settlements

See All Verdicts & Settlements

Opinion Digests

See All Digests