If you follow the news, you may have heard about a proposal that would affect the consequences of minor drug offenses in our state.
Prior drug offenses can add years onto a person’s sentence, even if they have served their time and the offense was committed years in the past. In August, a proposal was made to change the way that these past drug offenses affect sentencing. Under the proposal, prior drug offenses would have less of an impact, and those with a criminal history would face less time simply due to their past.
Supporters of the proposal said that it would reduce racial disparities and give individuals plagued with drug addiction more time to seek rehabilitation rather than sit behind bars. They also pointed out that the proposal would not be retroactive – it would only make an impact on future sentencing.
Opponents of the proposal said that using prior drug offenses helps prosecutors go after drug dealers and lengthen their sentences. This focus on going after larger drug dealers fits in with Minnesota’s recent changes in drug sentencing. Also in August, the state began using new drug sentencing guidelines to go after large kingpins and give low-level offenders less jail time. Commissioners also stated that the proposal would not do enough to help drug addicts.
So it makes sense that the opponents of the proposal won the argument. At the end of December, the proposal was denied and no changes were made to how prior drug offenses affect sentencing.
What does that mean for you if you are currently facing charges?
How Prior Drug Offenses Affect Sentencing
Nothing has changed when it comes to Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, but what exactly are those guidelines? Just how does the state take past drug crimes into account while determining someone’s sentence?
Here’s how it works. Individuals with a criminal history are given a “criminal history score.” Each conviction is worth a number of points based on the severity of the crime.
This score has been impacted by changes to the law. For example, individuals convicted of a gross misdemeanor before 2010 accumulated points on their criminal history score, but gross misdemeanors after 2010 do not result in any points.
Let’s look at drug crimes specifically, though. If you are convicted of a second- or third-degree controlled substance crime, you will receive 1 ½ points on your criminal history score. While this may not seem like a lot, it adds up fast if you are convicted on multiple accounts. Sex offenses and violent crimes also add to your criminal history score, and are treated the same as drug crimes.
When a judge is looking to create an appropriate sentence, there is a grid that they follow. On one side of the grid is the offense that you committed. On the other side of the grid is your criminal history score. Where these two meet is the proposed sentence by Minnesota law.
These sentences are not set in stone. Other mitigating or aggravating factors will play into what a judge thinks is an appropriate sentence. The fact is, though, that your criminal history score – your past offenses – matter.
Here is an example of how one or two prior convictions can impact your sentence. If you are convicted of a third-degree controlled substance crime and you have no prior offenses and 0 points on your criminal history score, Sentencing Guidelines suggest that you receive a sentence of 21 months in prison. If, however, you have a criminal history score of 3 (two prior drug offenses), the term of imprisonment is bumped up to 39 months. That is an extra year and a half in prison.
The recently rejected proposal redid this grid to lessen the severity of drug crimes and give offenders fewer points on their criminal history score. In fact, drug crimes would have been treated less severely than sex offenses or violent offenses. Since these changes were rejected, the current point system and sentencing guidelines will still be used.
Ultimately what this means is that if you are facing drug charges, a conviction will follow you even after you have served your time. Every offense adds points to your criminal history score, and even a crime worth just half a point could mean the difference between a few months in jail.
This is why it is so important to fight every single charge that is levied against you. Avoiding a conviction doesn’t just help you now, but every single time that you find yourself on the wrong side of the law for the rest of your life. And if you do have a criminal history that includes drug offenses, know that you will have to fight even harder to get a light sentence if you are found guilty or enter into a plea negotiation.
Don’t gamble with your life and your future. Give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome by contacting a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer.
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 (2014–2016), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2016), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2016).