The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: Although a Drug Court judge is not bound by a substance abuse evaluator’s recommendation for in-patient drug treatment, the evaluation is a critical component of a decision to grant or deny admission into the Drug Court program. The substance abuse evaluator’s recommendation can assist in the judge’s consideration of a defendant’s need for treatment and the probable effect of any addiction on future criminal behavior. A remand is necessary for the Drug Court judge to consider the substance abuse evaluator’s report.
The State candidly acknowledged at oral argument before us that a full review was not done in some of the cases in this consolidated appeal because the trial court did not have the benefit of TASC evaluations. A remand is therefore needed in any case before us where the trial court did not consider a TASC evaluation unless the record clearly shows that the defendant is a Track One candidate who is legally ineligible for special probation and thus categorically ineligible for admission to Drug Court.
As we have noted, as a general proposition, we review a sentencing court’s decision to admit or deny admission to Drug Court for an abuse of discretion. By its action to remove the prosecutorial veto, the Legislature clearly evinced an intention to rely on a judge’s discretion and ability to better determine admission without continuing that right to veto. Appellate courts review sentences only to determine: “(1) whether the exercise of discretion by the sentencing court was based upon findings of fact grounded in competent, reasonably credible evidence; (2) whether the sentencing court applied the correct legal principles in exercising its discretion; and (3) whether the application of the facts to the law was such a clear error of judgement that it shocks the conscience.”
Since Drug Court’s inception, TASC evaluations have been a critical component. The two main eligibility inquiries are whether an applicant is (1) legally eligible and (2) clinically eligible. The TASC is the most important element of clinical eligibility.