There are many policies from “The War on Drugs” that continue to affect Americans today.
The “three strikes law,” civil forfeiture, and the denial of government benefits to people who commit drug crimes are a few of them.
They all have a significant negative impact on sentences and how selling some dope can affect a person’s life. One of the most prominent of these outdated policies is mandatory minimums.
Mandatory minimums affect drug crime sentencing today, both at the federal level and in our home state.
The Rise of Plea Deals in an Age of Mandatory Minimums
During the peak of the War on Drugs, Congress began to set mandatory minimum sentences – even for low-level crimes. These crimes were able to accomplish two things. They kept people behind bars for longer periods of time and increased guilty sentences.
Why did mandatory minimums increase guilty sentences? Defendants often had the option of getting around long sentences by taking a plea deal. (They still do in over 90% of criminal cases.)
Plea bargains allow people to exchange a guilty plea for a reduced sentence. Offenders have the choice of fighting the charge and risking decades behind bars, or pleading guilty and only serving maybe 5-10 years. Clearly, most people choose to take the bargain.
With mandatory minimums, more people are behind bars for longer periods of time. This means that more money is being allocated toward prisons. (The federal prison budget was $7 billion in 2017.)
This creates a situation in which mandatory minimums are a harmful tool for both the country at large and individual offenders.
The Effects of Mandatory Minimums on Minnesota Drug Crimes
Because statutes exist at both the federal and state levels, so do mandatory minimums. Minnesota state law applies various mandatory minimums to multiple levels of a given drug crime and makes special considerations when certain factors are present.
Five Degrees of Controlled Substance Crimes
There are five degrees of controlled substance crimes in Minnesota. Fifth-degree (or lowest level) controlled substance crimes include selling marijuana, to give you an idea, while first-degree controlled substance crimes can involve selling batches of cocaine each over 17 grams.
Depending on where your charges fit in, a conviction can leave you facing anywhere from 48 months minimum to three or four decades in a Minnesota prison.
Special Considerations for Prior Convictions
Luckily, Minnesota does not generally target low-level drug crimes with mandatory minimum laws. First- and second-degree crimes are the only ones that have them when your case is processed by the state…that is when you are experiencing your first conviction.
If someone has a drug crime on their record, and are accused of a third-degree controlled substance crime, they automatically face a mandatory minimum.
Even only the second time you are convicted on a third-degree or higher controlled substance crime, plan on fighting at least 20 years in prison (and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines).
So Then, Is a Plea Bargain Right for Me?
Mandatory minimum sentencing in this state can be complex, and for that reason, quite confusing. That’s also why prosecutors have been so successful in encouraging plea bargains.
That being said, it is still imperative you review all of your options before pleading guilty to a drug crime in Minnesota. Reach out to a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer for information on how you can fight back and walk away from court with no jail sentence.
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).