The so-called “War on Drugs” has inflicted a significant amount of collateral damage due to the government’s fervor towards cracking down on drug trafficking. The pendulum has begun to swing back in the opposite direction based on the enormous financial resources employed in fighting this largely unsuccessful conflict. Because many first-time and minor offenders have been subject to harsh penalties associated with drug offenses, many states have begun to refine their drug sentencing laws to reduce prison overcrowding and the drain on state resources. The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission is currently considering revised sentencing guidelines that could impact the penalties imposed on those convicted of drug offenses.
Sentencing Guidelines Change Could Reduce Length of Incarceration
Examples illustrate the significant reduced exposure that some offenders might face under modified sentencing guidelines. If a person is charged with first-degree drug possession under the revisions currently being considered, the period of incarceration would be approximately half of the current prison time (4 years rather than 7 years). For a second-degree drug possession offense, the accused could qualify for probation as opposed to the current four-year term in state prison. The panel voiced objections to the excessive punishment imposed for users of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Users of these drugs can receive sentences comparable to large-scale drug dealers despite the accused being a low-level drug offender.
Sentencing Guidelines Change Could Increase Your Chance for Probation
The changes in the sentencing guidelines are not limited only to possession charges for first-time offenders. The commission also proposed modifying the guidelines for certain other drug offenses, which include drug sales. The prison sentence for conviction of the charge of a first-degree drug sale would be reduced from 7 years to 5 years. A second-degree drug sale charge could result in probation rather than a term in state prison.
According to Mark Wernick, a commissioner and former Hennepin County Judge, “The prior guidelines were too severe.”
The proposed sentencing guidelines offer the promise of less harsh sentences for drug offenders, but individuals facing a drug offense need to be aware that the changes are not yet final. The guidelines passed their most recent hurdle when they were approved by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission by a 7-4 vote following public comment. The modified sentencing recommendations will become effective in August 2016 unless the legislature intervenes to block or revise the proposed changes.
Prison Population Could be Significantly Reduced
Proponents of the changes cite a range of benefits from the changes. The sentencing will funnel more people toward treatment for their drug addiction rather than lengthy periods behind bars. The more lenient sentencing could also reduce the prison population by over 700 beds. Finally, the revisions are designed to provide more uniform sentencing across Minnesota. Current drug sentencing often results in harsher sentences for people in non-metro areas when compared to those in major metro areas.
Ask Your Criminal Defense Attorney About the Changes
Although the proposed changes are consistent with the trend toward drug sentencing reform by federal lawmakers and many other states, your defense attorney should be discussing these new changes with the court once they take effect to ensure that you are receiving the full advantage of this more lenient sentencing.
If you have been arrested for a drug offense in Minnesota, we invite you to speak to a criminal defense lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.