What Drug Sentencing Reforms Mean for Minnesotans

The Minnesota House recently passed a compromise bill amending the state’s drug sentencing guidelines. The new guidelines are intended to divert many offenders to treatment programs instead of to prison cells. The changes come after it was recognized that 7 times out of 10, judges applied less severe punishments than guidelines called for. Indeed, many judges remain steadfast in their belief that many offenders should be rehabilitated rather than incarcerated.

One of the most significant changes to the law is that it expands the scope of drug offenders who are eligible for enrollment within early release programs. Under the new guidelines, offenders who complete drug treatment programs and maintain a peaceful demeanor while in prison will be eligible for early release.

The legislation also reduces the recommended sentence for the first-degree sale or possession of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine to just over 5 years. Under current law, the recommended sentence is 7 years. The threshold for a first-degree offense of these narcotics has also been raised from 10 grams to 17 grams.

The new law makes it possible for those convicted of second-degree narcotics sale to avoid prison time by instead diverting these individuals into 4-year probation programs. However, the law enhances penalties when aggravating factors are present regardless of first or second degree offenses. These aggravating factors include being arrested while in the possession of a firearm, dealing narcotics across state lines, or dealing drugs for the benefit of a gang.

While the state is getting softer on hard drugs, they are getting harder on soft drugs. The state has lowered the threshold for first-degree charges related to the sale or possession of marijuana. Under current law, this threshold is 50 kilograms for those arrested for sale, and 100 kilograms for those merely in possession of marijuana. Under the new guidelines, these limits have been reduced to 25 kilograms for sale, and 50 kilograms for possession.

The legislation is expected to sail through the Senate before being sent to Governor Dayton who is has already said he would sign the bill into law. The changes are not retroactive, however, they will be applied to pending cases. Ultimately, it is the belief of legislators, judges, and drug attorneys in St. Paul that the new guidelines will serve to ease overcrowding in the state’s prisons. They will also make it possible to divert more funds towards prevention, treatment, and probation programs in the future.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Confidential informants may provide integral information to help build criminal investigations, but how reliable is that information when they are receiving payment for their services? To protect them, state law requires the identity of informants be kept confidential. For those facing criminal charges, however, this creates challenges in questioning the accuracy and validity of the information given at trial.
Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.