On the first day of August each year, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission publishes revised guidelines for felony sentencing. The 2016 changes were discussed in two public hearings and approved by the commission in a 7 to 3 vote. They were presented to the Minnesota legislature in a report dated January 16, 2016. Some of the changes in drug sentencing may be controversial as they are less harsh compared to previous standards.
Barring any complications, the new guidelines will be implemented on August 1, 2016. As Max A. Keller, drug attorney St. Paul, explains, “The new guidelines can give those found guilty of minor drug offenses the second chance they deserve.”
The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission was established in 1980 to review incarceration trends and put a meaningful sentencing structure in place. The commission developed the “sentencing grid” to provide a logical framework for setting consistent prison sentences. It assigns each crime a “severity level” and gives the offender a “criminal history score” based on the number of past offenses. Judges use these factors to determine a drug offender’s sentence.
The annual guidelines review focuses on legislative changes, case law, and other relevant issues. The committee seeks to promote changes that help establish consistent sentencing practices, eliminate sentencing disparity, and ensure that sentencing is not disproportionate to the crime and criminal history.
The 2016 guidelines establish a separate “Drug Offender Grid.” Unlike the previous single grid, it doesn’t lump drug crimes together with other crimes when establishing a sentencing score. As with the old grid, the drug grid score total determines one of two sentencing outcomes. A “presumptive commitment to state prison,” or a “presumptive stayed sentence,” which may mean local jail time, no jail time, probation, or a combination of these. The new drug grid features:
- Reduced severity levels and sentences for some crimes
- 10 drug offense categories instead of 4
- A Meth category with reduced severity levels applicable to children and vulnerable adults
Max A Keller, a drug attorney St. Paul,” is optimistic about the new guidelines. “I am positive that the new drug sentencing guidelines will encourage fair and equitable sentencing,” he explains. Attorney Keller invites anyone with questions or concerns about the modifications to contact Keller Law Offices.