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Mandatory minimums for drug crimes could soon be in the past

The law can be an ever-changing entity, constantly being updated, changed and added to. Not only are new laws signed into effect and old ones repealed, but the consequences for existing laws are sometimes adjusted to more closely reflect current times. Some believe that Massachusetts is close to making a significant change -- eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.

This is not the first time that advocates have suggested minimum sentences be repealed for those accused of nonviolent drug charges. Former Governor Deval Patrick considered getting rid of these minimum sentences back in 2012, but nothing came of it. In 2015 lawmakers insisted they wanted to delay reforms to the criminal justice system until a review was completed by an outside consultant, which was not available until earlier in 2017, and focused on post-release education and supervision.

The most recent push to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences seems to reflect a shift in local attitudes. One survey reported that approximately 8 percent of people in Massachusetts like the idea of a mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes. Most preferred that judges have at least some discretion at their disposal when determining an appropriate consequence.

Advocates of eliminating mandatory minimums give several justifications. Not only would they like to see judges given more discretionary abilities with sentencing, but they also point to over-incarceration rates that often come from nonviolent offenders. Many nonviolent drug crime offenders are also considered ineligible for certain programs that help individuals who have been incarcerated transition back into their communities.

Proposed legislation for criminal justice reform usually draws support from both sides, but proposals mean nothing if they are not signed into law. In the meantime, mandatory minimum sentences still exist for even nonviolent drug crimes. Those accused of such charges should be sure to understand their rights, which can be asserted and defended by competent counsel throughout the entirety of criminal court proceedings.

Source: masslive.com, "Is this the year Massachusetts will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences?", Shira Schoenberg, Oct. 12, 2017

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Patrick K. Burke, Attorney at Law
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