Earlier this year, President Obama made history by granting clemency to over 240 individuals who faced harsh penalties for drug crimes.
In his efforts, he commuted 92 life sentences and has pardoned more people than the past 6 presidents combined. All individuals were nonviolent offenders, and many were able to go home to their families after decades in prison.
His efforts reflect the recent shift in national attitudes toward drug crimes and sentencing. The past few years have brought reduced drug sentencing to federal drug offenders. Since 2009, 11 states have reduced their mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, 10 have redefined or reclassified drug offenses.
And, of course, 23 states now allow different forms of legal marijuana use – although Minnesota is not one of these states. Our state is, however, following suit with the nation’s attitude on drug sentencing, and proposing reforms to the harsh penalties the state assigns drug crimes.
Minnesota’s Drug Sentencing Reforms
Currently, convictions for drug crimes in Minnesota come with severe penalties. A fifth degree controlled substance crime (sale of marijuana, possession of Schedule I-IV controlled substances) is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Marijuana possession or sale can result in misdemeanor or felony charges. Possession of 3+ grams of harder drugs (cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin) is considered a Third Degree Controlled Substance Crime and could land you in jail for up to 30 years.
For the first time in 27 years, though, Minnesota may make changes to the way it punishes drug offenders. The reforms are would go into effect in August and could bring the following changes to penalties and sentencing for drug crimes:
- First degree offenders could face a sentence of up to five, rather than seven, years.
- First degree narcotic sale charges would start at 17 grams (heroin sale would stay at 10 grams).
- First degree narcotic possession charges would start at 50 grams (heroin possession would stay at 25 grams).
- Second degree narcotics sale would start at 10 grams (heroin sale would stay at 3 grams).
- Second degree narcotics possession would start at 25 grams (heroin possession would stay at 6 grams).
- Currently, prior third, fourth, and fifth degree drug convictions affect your penalties, requiring you to serve a mandatory jail sentence. The reforms would eliminate the mandatory sentence.
- Fifth degree offenders could face gross misdemeanor, rather than felony, charges. (Second offenses would be bumped up to a felony.)
The goal of the adjustments to Minnesota’.s sentencing is to create a true difference in how dealers and addicts are treated Addicts will face less severe penalties so they can focus on rehabilitation efforts. Serious dealers, regarded by Minnesota as the center of the state’s drug problems, will still face severe punishments. Some elements of the reform actually include even harsher sentences for people who sell very high quantities of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines.
Benefits of the New Legislation
Beyond benefitting addicts who have been charged or convicted of drug crimes, these new laws will help to reform Minnesota’s overall prison system. Right now, our prisons are overcrowded. Worse, we have one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the country, largely due to drug crimes.
If no reforms are made, state correctional facilities are projected to hold over 1,000 inmates more than they are supposed to hold by 2022. 1 in 5 inmates are there due to drug charges. Not only could reforms reduce their sentences and get them out of prison faster, they could also prevent more people from entering the prison system in the first place.
Reforming Minnesota’s prison system could save the state a large sum of money. Iowa’s recent drug reform laws are set to save that state over $700,000 in the next year alone. It’s pretty simple, really. Incarceration costs the state (and taxpayers) an exorbitant amount of money every year. With reduced sentences and fewer people in jail, the state can spend less money on maintaining state prisons.
What Does This Mean for You?
If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime, Minnesota’s new reforms may lessen your sentence or allow you and your lawyer to negotiate a more reasonable penalty. You may be eligible for parole sooner, or you may be released from jail earlier for serving a sentence given to you under previous Minnesota laws.
Under these reforms, prisoners serving harsh jail sentences can also file for an appeal that will help to shorten their sentence. This is not an easy process, but the changes made through these reforms should help. Contact a Minnesota defense attorney today for a free consultation on how new drug sentencing laws can affect your future.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).