In Minnesota, standards for sentencing felony convictions are established by the sentencing guidelines developed by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC). These sentencing guidelines are meant to ensure that convictions are proportional to the severity of the charged offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Generally, the sentencing guidelines aim to impose jail time only for offenders who are convicted of serious offenses or have extensive criminal histories in order to facilitate the use of limited state resources. Therefore, sentences are generally the least restrictive necessary to achieve correctional goals. Additionally, the guidelines are only advisory to Minnesota courts, but they are presumed to be appropriate for the felonies they cover. Therefore, courts generally do not deviate from the guidelines unless substantial and compelling circumstances are identified.
Currently, the guidelines provide harsh sentences for first degree and second-degree drug possession felony charges. Possession of a controlled substance in the first degree is defined by Minnesota statute as unlawful possession of either 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, 500 grams or more of amphetamines or hallucinogens, 500 grams or more of other narcotics, or 25 grams of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine. If convicted, Minnesota statutes permit a sentence of not more than 30 years or payment of a fine not exceeding $1 million, or both. Second-degree drug possession involves unlawful possession of either 50 kilograms or more marijuana, 50 grams or more of amphetamines or hallucinogens, 50 grams or more of other narcotics, or six grams or more of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. The statutes will allow a sentence of not more than 25 years and payment of a fine not exceeding $500,000.
When Minnesota courts sentence individuals for first or second degree drug possession, the guidelines provide a recommended sentence within the statutory limits by taking into account the defendant’s prior criminal history. For first degree drug possession, where the defendant has zero prior criminal history, the guidelines provide a presumptive sentence of 86 months imprisonment, with a discretionary range of between 74 to 103 months. Second degree drug possession convictions start out with a presumptive sentence of 48 months, and a discretionary range of between 41 to 57 months.
Proposed Reduction in Sentencing Guidelines
Last November 18, the MSGC put forward a proposal to reduce the recommended sentence for first and second degree drug possession. According to supporters of the amendment, courts have been headed towards a downward departure from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines with these possession offenses, which results in lack of uniformity in sentencing. Additionally, the proposal seeks to differentiate sentences for drug dealers and users, which goes to addressing the increase in drug offenders in state correctional facilities. According to the chairman of the MSGC, the proposal has the potential to free up 700 beds in burdened correctional facilities and would ensure that lower-level and first-time drug offenders are not sent away for long prison sentences.
Under the proposal, the MSGC would reduce the presumptive sentence for first degree drug possession from 86 months to 48 months – nearly reducing the sentence in half. The discretionary range is similarly reduced to 41 to 57 months of jail time. For second degree drug possession, the MSGC also proposed drastic reductions. Instead of a presumptive sentence of 48 months, the proposed guidelines would permit the court to impose probation and other non-jail sanctions, and up to one year of jail time. If the MSGC adopts the proposal on December 30, 2015, the Minnesota legislature is provided a window of opportunity to review the changes. If the legislature does not act to foreclose the changes, the changes to the guidelines would become effective for crimes committed after August 1, 2016
In the meantime, drug possession charges are a serious matter that can result in lengthy jail time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. If you have been charged with criminal drug possession, you should seek expert legal counsel immediately. Kans Law Firm, LLC can assist you in crafting the best possible defense. Call us now for a free initial consultation at (952) 835-6314.