Do Tougher Penalties Require New Drug Crime Defense Strategies?

In Drug Crimes by RSF

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Drug Crimes on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Drug distribution laws penalize selling or transporting controlled substances. Both federal and state distribution charges vary based on the type of drug and the amount sold. Charges also vary based on whether minors were involved or targeted.

Yet politics also impact drug enforcement. Readers may be familiar with the slogan, America’s War on Drugs. In conjunction with that aggressive stance, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued mandatory minimum sentencing rules.

Federal Prosecutors Are Seeking Tougher Drug Penalties

The new administration is reviving this older approach to drug enforcement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently issued a memorandum encouraging federal authorities to seek the maximum penalties, and invoke mandatory minimums, against all drug offenders. The administration may hope that the threat of tougher penalties will deter drug traffickers.

Commentators disagree over the efficacy of tougher penalties for drug crimes. Under President Barack Obama, federal prosecutors had more discretion in charging lower level offenders, especially when the inclusion of certain charges might trigger longer sentencing. The nation’s court and penal systems are admittedly overburdened. Proponents of this discretionary approach claim that it allows authorities to focus on higher-level drug offenders.

Tougher Penalties Require More Nuanced Legal Strategy

As a law firm that focuses on drug crime defense, we see the political shift as an opportunity for increased negotiation. Prosecutors will continue to struggle under heavy workloads, and the DOJ mandate gives them less discretion in court. Plea deals present an opportunity to quickly resolve cases, yet still comply with the tougher stance on drugs.

Plea deals may present a win-win scenario

Here’s how a plea might work: In exchange for pleading guilty, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with a less serious drug charge. Since felony charges become part of a criminal defendant’s record, a less serious charge may look better. In the event of a future conviction, the lesser charge may not count as a repeat offense.

Source: NBC News, “Attorney General Sessions Charts Course Back to Long Drug Sentences,” Jon Schuppe, May 13, 2017