Posted on Aug 21, 2013 6:58am PDT
In the wake of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's instructions to federal prosecutors to relax their aggressive pursuit of lower-level, non-violent drug offenders, our Birmingham drug crime defense attorneys immediately recognized this was likely to do little for state-level offenders.
One way prosecutors are being instructed to do this is to leave out the amount of a drug involved in a particular arrest if doing so would trigger a stiff mandatory minimum sentence.
Holder's primary goal is to reduce swelling federal prison populations by reducing the number of individuals serving lengthy terms for lower-tier drug offenses not connected to violent cartels or gangs.
While it's possible that state prosecutors could follow Holder's lead, they aren't obligated to do so at this point. The reality is, the majority of drug crimes are prosecuted at the state level.
In Alabama, the determination of whether a drug crime is going to be pursued as a misdemeanor or a felony is going to depend on a number of factors, including:
- The alleged crime itself;
- The amount of drugs reportedly involved;
- The type of drugs reportedly involved;
- Whether the defendant has a history of drug activity;
- Whether minors were reportedly involved;
- If a firearm or other weapon was used in commission of the alleged crime.
A good defense attorney will work to suppress evidence of certain elements of a crime that might boost it from misdemeanor to felony status before the case ever goes to court. This can end up knocking many years off your potential sentence, even if in the end you are convicted.
There are a number of Alabama drug crimes that, under state law, require a minimum mandatory sentence. For example, Alabama Code 13A-12-215 hold that if you are over the age of 18 and you sell or furnish a controlled substance to a minor, you have committed a Class A felony, punishable by a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 99 years to life in prison. The law is clear on the fact that no portion of that minimum can be suspended or rolled over into probation.
If you commit a drug sale within three miles of a school, university or housing project, the law requires you serve an addition 5 years in prison. These five years can be suspended, but only if you are given a split sentence.
If you violate Alabama Code 13A-12-223 by being involved in a drug trafficking enterprise, upon a first conviction, you face a minimum of 25 years in prison. You could be given up to life in prison. A second offense is a mandatory life sentence.
Trafficking more than 2.2 pounds to 100 pounds of cannabis? Mandatory three years.
Committed while you were in possession of a firearm? Add on another 5 years.
Same goes for first-time conviction for sales involving morphine, opium, heroin, LSD and cocaine.
On the other hand, even the most severe misdemeanor drug offense is going to net you a maximum of one year in jail. The primary difference between misdemeanor and felony drug crimes is the intention. Was the drug for sale purposes or your own personal use?
The amount and type of drug plays a big role in determining this. However, if the amount was on the lower end of the spectrum, it may be possible for our attorneys to negotiate a plea deal to have you admit to the lesser crime of possession in order to have prosecutors drop the more serious sale or trafficking charges.
Effectiveness is going to depend on a number of factors. However, there is no question that without a strong legal defense, you risk severe consequences.
If you have been arrested for a drug crime in Birmingham, contact Drug Crime Defense Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.