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Drastic Changes to Mandatory Minimum Sentences: How Will They Affect Non-Violent Drug Offenders?

On April 19th, the Attorney General issued a directive to all law enforcement chief executives advising them on the recent waiver of mandatory minimum sentences in non-violent drug cases. Amidst the recent changes to marijuana legislation, the State has been exploring other ways to improve how the justice system deals with people who manufacture or distribute controlled substances.

Usually when a defendant is sentenced to prison, they are required to serve one-third of their sentence before they are eligible for parole. However, some crimes are specified to have a longer amount of time before someone is eligible for parole, anywhere from 33 to 85 percent of their sentence. Of these crimes with mandatory minimum sentencing, six of them relate to non-violent drug activity. Prosecutors have been instructed to seek waivers of these mandatory minimums for those charged with non-violent drug crimes in all steps of the criminal justice process, from negotiating a plea deal to reducing sentences for those who are already incarcerated.

When this directive goes into effect on May 19, the process of adjusting the sentences of those currently incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes will begin. This new directive can be applied to enter an agreement of decreased parole ineligibility before or after conviction for a non-violent drug crime. For anyone that has already been incarcerated and is serving a sentence based on the mandatory minimums, their sentence will be retroactively corrected so that they are eligible for parole after one third of their sentence. Individuals who are currently incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes under the former mandatory minimum sentences can request that the prosecutor file a joint application to modify the sentence.

Even though most people serving a sentence for these charges will be able to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentencing, the directive allows for prosecutors to keep the extended period of parole ineligibility in certain cases. Based on the specific facts of an individual case, the prosecutor may determine that the increased sentence is necessary in order to ensure the safety of the public. In these particular cases, the prosecutors will have to prove to the judge that the aggravating factors associated with the offense substantially outweigh the mitigating factors. The Directive states that the prosecutor is not allowed to seek a period of parole-ineligibility that is longer that the original sentencing, which is meant to protect the defendants from being worse off as a result of sentence modification.

Here at the Law Offices of Eric B. Morrell, we are keeping up with these developments in sentencing guidelines in order to fight for the best possible results for our clients. If someone you know has been incarcerated for a non-violent drug offense and you want to know how these updates apply, please reach out to our offices for assistance.

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