Defendant ordered to attend treatment
A Havre woman who admitted violating her probation was ordered Monday to complete a program at the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte.
Judge E. Wayne Phillips ordered Erica Ann Dion, 21, to remain in the Hill County Detention Center until an opening at the treatment center becomes available.
Phillips made the ruling after hearing testimony from Dion's probation officer, her parents, and a chemical dependency counselor.
Dion was sentenced earlier this year to three years with the Montana Department of Corrections after she pleaded guilty to theft and forgery charges. Dion was accused of stealing more than $11,000 in jewelry and forging $1,400 in checks from family members.
Former state District Judge John Warner deferred imposing the sentence, meaning that Dion would avoid prison if she remained law-abiding.
Prosecutors sought in July to revoke the deferred sentence. During that month, Dion twice admitted to her probation officer that she used methamphetamine, according to court documents. She was arrested July 3 on a charge of partner or family member assault and accused of attacking her mother for flushing her drugs down a toilet, court documents said.
Prosecutors on Monday asked Phillips to revoke the deferred sentence and impose the original three-year sentence. Newly appointed County Attorney Cyndee Peterson called state probation and parole officer Heather Oswald to testify.
"Erica has demonstrated that she cannot be supervised within the community. She needs structure. She has a serious drug addiction," Oswalt said.
Oswalt recommended that Dion be sentenced to the three years.
Defense attorney Jeremy Yellin asked that Phillips take a different course of action. Yellin solicited testimony from both of Dion's parents, Scott and Twila Dion, and chemical dependency counselor Carol Richard.
Scott and Twila Dion said treatment is a better alternative for their daughter than prison. Yellin asked Twila Dion if she still supports her daughter despite the July 3 assault.
"Absolutely," she said.
Erica Dion, who sat silently through Oswalt's testimony, broke down in tears while listenng to her mother testify.
Under questioning by Yellin, Twila Dion discussed the disruptive effect her daughter's drug use had on their family, and their difficulty finding appropriate treatment. The family is middle class, she said, earning too little to afford treatment, and too much to qualify for low-cost programs.
"We're white middle class," she said. "And we fell through the cracks."
Scott Dion said he is confidant his daughter can maintain a healthy lifestyle with counseling and supervision. Erica Dion, who is a certified nurse assistant, is well respected at the retirement community where she worked, he said.
"I hear from her colleagues and patients all the time," he said. "They ask me 'When is Erica coming back? When is Erica coming back?' I tell them, 'I don't know.'"
Carol Richard, a counselor with the eight-county TLC treatment program, testified that she used to counsel Dion.
"Last year there was a lot of denial," she said. "I don't hear that anymore."
Richard said she would be willing to continue counseling Dion until she can be taken to the treatment center in Butte.
Phillips asked several questions about the nature of a meth addiction, and the probability of a relapse.
"It's one of the hardest ones to treat," Richard responded. "They don't think like we do."
Phillips asked Dion if she would like to make a statement. Dion, dressed in a gray prison jumpsuit and shackled at the ankles, tearfully implored Phillips to give her another chance.
Phillips asked Peterson for her recommendations. Peterson said the state concurred with Oswalt, and asked for a three-year DOC commitment.
Yellin asked that Dion be released to the custody of her father and allow her to work as a CNA until she can enter treatment.
Phillips expressed reluctance to release Dion, citing the high propensity for relapse among addicts.
"All the experts tell us to expect revidicism," he said. "They plan for it."
After calling a 10-minute recess, Phillips decided to revoke the deferred sentence. He said he did not feel comfortable releasing Dion before she entered treatment.
The ruling means the theft and forgery convictions will appear on Dion's record. After successfully completing the inpatient treatment program, Dion will be free to work or attend school.