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

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CANTON — Multiple failures in court-mandated drug programs resulted in a Hermon sex offender being sent to a state correctional facility for six years Thursday in St. Lawrence County Court.

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

Cleveland was terminated from two different programs through JDP. The program is aimed at giving individuals convicted of drug- and alcohol-related criminal offenses a chance to reduce the severity of their sentences by undergoing counseling and weekly drug testing and getting a job or pursuing an education.

Failure to successfully complete that one- to two-year program allows the judge to send the offender to state prison.

After being ousted from the program in January and again in February, Cleveland was faced with St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards’ decision on how much time she could spend in custody.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Botts requested that Cleveland get sentenced to the maximum term of imprisonment of 12 years on each count with three years post-release supervision served consecutively.

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

Conflict Defender Amy Dona, who represented Cleveland, said her client had been struggling with addiction to pain pills due to a medical condition for some time; however, her issue with not completing the programs was not as a result of drug abuse but altercations. Additionally, she was facing other problems finding additional treatment due to her sex offender status.

Ms. Dona said 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, Cleveland began crying, telling the judge that while in jail she was able to begin her path to rehabilitation by turning down multiple chances to use drugs and 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.”

Before receiving her sentence, Judge Richards explained to Cleveland that the court’s drug 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 of offenders. “That’s just not true.”

Judge Richards said looking at Cleveland’s criminal history the program was something that would require more time to help her.

“You entered your plea one year and two months ago,” Judge Richards said. “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.”

Although Judge Richards said he was sure that Cleveland made some changes, and he credited her for that, he said that credit would not keep her from prison.

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

In addition to her sentence, Cleveland is ordered to pay a total of $750 in court fines, fees and surcharges and $497.73 in restitution to the DA’s office for fees they paid out to subpoena confidential informant for Cleveland’s prosecution.

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