If you've recently been arrested and charged with a drug-related crime in Minnesota, you may be concerned about your future -- both in terms of a potential jail sentence and your ability to secure employment or even rent an apartment after a drug-related conviction. Fortunately, recent reforms to Minnesota's sentencing laws could bring good news for those who are found guilty of committing minor or non-violent drug-related offenses. Read on to learn more about the potential sentences available for drug crimes under Minnesota state law, as well as how these recent reforms could impact your own case.
What are the current sentencing guidelines for drug possession or distribution?
Like many states, Minnesota has a set of presumptive sentencing guidelines -- this framework helps judges ensure that a particular sentence fits the crime, providing rehabilitation (or punishment) for the defendant while protecting the community from the many impacts of illegal drugs. While judges aren't required to sentence a defendant to the exact number of months set forth in the presumptive guidelines, they are generally limited to sentences within the discretionary range for each classification of criminal activity. Handing down a sentence that falls outside this range could be overturned on appeal or even subject the judge to ethical charges if viewed as an abuse of judicial discretion.
For the most serious drug crimes (1st and 2nd degree controlled substance offenses), defendants may be sentenced to anywhere from 4 to 15 years, depending upon their criminal history. A defendant who has never been arrested will likely receive a sentence on the shorter end of these guidelines, while someone with multiple drug-related convictions could find themselves facing one of the harshest sentences available.
Those convicted of lower-level drug crimes (3rd degree controlled substance offenses or the sale of a simulated controlled substance) face shorter sentences of between 1 and 4.5 years. However, the presumptive sentence for even the most minor drug crime involving an individual with no criminal history is at least 12 months.
What changes to these guidelines are being proposed?
In December 2015, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission voted to revise these guidelines in an attempt to avoid jail overcrowding and help those with addictions receive the help they need (rather than a potentially lengthy jail sentence). One of the biggest changes to these guidelines comes in the form of a presumptive sentence of probation (rather than 4 or more years in prison) for second degree sale or possession of a controlled substance. The presumptive sentences for harsher drug offenses are also being downgraded, although cases involving violence or the threat of violence may still be subject to harsher penalties.
Will these changes take effect in time to impact your own sentencing?
These changes have already been approved by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, but aren't slated to become effective until August 2016. Because these sentencing guidelines aren't designed to be retroactive, if your sentence is handed down before August, you may find yourself running up against the old presumptive guidelines. You'll want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that you're doing all you legally can to delay your case if it's deemed that doing so could result in a more favorable sentence.
Alternatively, you may be able to appeal a sentence handed down under the harsher guidelines if you can show mitigating factors that indicate the presumptive sentence was too strict for the circumstances of your alleged criminal activity. Examples of such factors could include drug addiction, limited or nonexistent criminal history, or financial necessity (for example, selling drugs to get money for food or other basic needs).
For more information about drug related cases, contact a practice like Kassel & Kassel A Group of Independent Law Offices.