Criminal justice reform bill gains momentum

The tough on drugs movement resulted in harsh criminal penalties for those convicted of drug crimes, often including long prison sentences. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized a need for change. One current proposal designed to help meet this need is making its way through Congress.

What is this new proposal? The First Step Act passed the Senate on Tuesday, December 18th. The House of Representatives will now review the proposal. If passed by the House, the bill would move on to President Donald Trump — who has voiced support and promised to sign the bill into law.

How does the First Step Act change drug sentencing? Three examples include a shortening of mandatory minimum schemes for qualifying non-violent drug crimes, lowering of the “three strikes” penalty, and increased discretion for judges to avoid mandatory minimums.

Ultimately, the First Step Act aims to reduce recidivism rates by focusing on job training instead of incarceration. If passed, the law would mean thousands of currently incarcerated individuals could receive sentencing reductions and take advantage of early-release programs.

How can those convicted of drug crimes take advantage of the new law? Again, if passed incarcerated individuals who participate in offered programs can receive credits. These individuals can then use these credits to reduce their sentence or receive home confinement.

Although the proposal is promising, those who are accused of a drug crime must remain vigilant for the following reasons:

  • The law only addresses federal prisons. Although lawmakers are hopeful the law will spur change at a local level, the First Step Act does not require reform at the state level.
  • Sentencing remains harsh. Even if the law passes, those who are convicted of a drug crime can still face prison time and harsh monetary penalties.

As such, those accused of drug crimes should not take the allegations lightly. Take steps to build a defense and better ensure your legal rights are protected. Protect your future. Contact an attorney experienced in drug crime charges to discuss your options.