Under older criminal laws, non-violent drug offenders faced sometimes decades long sentences for drug possession and distribution. In some extreme cases, non-violent drug offenders even faced life in jail. According to the New York Times, President Obama recently shortened sentences for 58 non-violent drug offenders. Obama spoke out against what he called harsh sentences that harkened back to an earlier era. The president’s choice to commute sentences comes in the wake of changes to the law that shorten sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Many mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders herald back to the war on drugs where laws and sentencing privileged certain offenders over others. Most notoriously, crack users faced harsher sentencing than cocaine users. Demographically, crack users tend to come from poorer and minority backgrounds while cocaine users tended to be wealthier and white. The result was more minority and poor people facing mandatory minimum sentencing and lengthy jail sentences for drug convictions.
Even as the president shortened sentences, he spoke out against current federal sentencing laws, particularly, mandatory minimum sentencing laws for non-violent drug crimes. Many have spoken out about unreasonable sentences that require some non-violent drug offenders to serve decades in jail.
Changes to Michigan’s drug laws align with the president’s efforts. According to MLive, the Michigan Supreme Court recently struck down mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Sentencing guidelines in Michigan are now advisory rather than mandatory. This gives judges more discretion in how long they send non-violent drug offenders off to prison. Now, more than ever, it is important to have a strong criminal defense team on your side, if you’ve been accused of a non-violent drug offense in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you are found guilty, the case you make in court may have a large impact in how long you spend in jail.
Michigan judges can now look at a range of variables, including a defendant’s past actions as well as the severity of the offense for which a person was found guilty.
Yet, critics of the change to Michigan law worry that the change in sentencing guidelines can work against defendants as well as work for them. Judges now have the right to issue longer sentences. If a judge believes that the evidence for a case warrants a longer sentence, the judge no longer has to strictly adhere to sentencing guidelines. This makes having a strong criminal defense attorney working on your side all the more important. Public defenders seldom have the time nor the resources to offer their clients the personal attention they require. Having the resources to defend yourself in court can often result in a better outcome. While Michigan law affects mandatory minimum sentencing, some argue that it still upholds old divisions in criminal justice between the haves and the have-nots. Namely, if you can afford criminal defense attorneys, you’re more likely to make a stronger case for a shorter sentence. While, if you have to rely on a public defender, your judge may be more likely to rely more strictly on sentencing guidelines.
Gordon & Hess P.L.C. are criminal defense attorneys in Grand Rapids, Michigan who will represent you with their knowledge and experience of the law and work to get you the best possible outcome. When your freedom, future, and reputation is at stake, you need Gordon & Hess, P.L.C.