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April 8, 2007

Minnesota SG Commission urging drug sentencing reforms

As detailed in this local news story, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission is urging in this new report a rehaul of the state's drug sentencing laws.  Here are the basics from the news story:

Minnesota's drug laws might be too harsh and the state should consider reducing prison terms for users and small-time dealers, a powerful sentencing commission contends.  The provocative stance from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission would have been improbable a decade ago, when politicians and prosecutors often spoke about zero tolerance and a "war on drugs." But the idea of reforming drug laws, including the possibility of reducing recommended sentences for certain offenses, has been gaining traction among lawmakers, judges and prosecutors.

The sentencing commission put forward a proposal that would cut recommended sentences on some drug offenses nearly in half. First-degree offenders convicted for the first time could see recommended sentences reduced from seven years to four years.

A bill that passed the state Senate last month includes a provision ordering a drug-sentencing study. The review would be done next year and could include new sentencing guidelines that would automatically take effect unless lawmakers act to block them. Backers of a review said the state must examine whether the lengthy prison terms for drug offenses recommended under current sentencing guidelines are fair, effective and worth the cost. Drug offenders represent an increasing percentage of the state's prison population.

"We've got too many drug folks in prison," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. "We need to do something about it. We need to have an enlightened dialogue that includes treatment." Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said he would oppose lighter sentences. He said violent crime and other problems stemming from drug use and dealing can "overwhelm communities."

April 8, 2007 at 09:21 AM | Permalink

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