AZ Drug Defense Lawyer Talks Sentence Reductions.
Arizona Reduces Prison Sentences for Non-violent Addicts.
As an AZ drug defense lawyer I am all too keenly aware that the number of Americans who struggle with long-term substance abuse is staggering. If you are curious about the exact number, please refer to the data published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2018. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Sadly, in Arizona, far too many of these non-violent individuals end up in prison.
I. Prior convictions without jail still count as prior convictions.
Arizona Revised Statue § 13-901.01 mandates that non-violent addicts participate in treatment on their first and second offenses. Yet, by willfully refusing to comply with court-ordered treatment, or by obtaining three or more felony drug convictions, non-violent addicts can be (and routinely are) sent to prison. Because these individuals have multiple convictions, by the time they become prison eligible, Arizona’s repeat offender statutes force judges to impose severe mandatory sentences for simple possession of drugs.
II. Selling a small amount to a mere acquaintance qualifies as possession for sale.
Police officers have no legal obligation to inform a scared college kid that most prosecutors offer diversion programs for first-time offenders. Instead, police officers promise to drop all charges in exchange for a couple of controlled buys.
The theory behind this behavior is the classic “little fish/big fish”. Society lets the little fish swim away and seek treatment on their own. In the meantime, the government can now prosecute the big fish drug dealer and make society safer. In reality, however, John Addict does not know any “big fish” drug dealers. And even if he does, he is smart enough not to narc on them. So what happens?
With police coaching and monitoring, a recently arrested addict calls a distant acquaintance and asks to buy a small amount of drugs. The person who receives this call believes they are doing a favor for a friend of a friend. These contrived sales almost never involve a drug dealer of any magnitude. Yet, with audio and video devices recording all aspects of the deal, a non-violent addict (or recreational user) is suddenly charged with a major felony that mandates a prison sentence.
III. New reduced sentences apply to possession only cases.
In Arizona, most prison inmates serve 85% of their imposed sentence. The remaining 15% is served on community supervision (a modern form of parole). In June of 2019, the sentencing statutes were relaxed somewhat for drug addicts. Non-violent individuals sent to prison for simple possession only now need only serve 70% of their sentence. The amended sentencing statute was made retroactive and applied to those already serving prison time. To qualify for the reduced sentence, a non-violent offender has to successfully complete “a drug treatment program or other major self-improvement program” while in prison. See A.R.S. § 41-1604.7(B)(1)(b).
As a seasoned criminal drug defense lawyer, the new reduced sentencing law seems like a small step in the right direction. But three decades of experience leave me with three nagging concerns:
- Will there be enough treatment opportunities in prison for all the non-violent individuals who request treatment?
- If a non-violent addict is arrested for a non-drug offense (like theft), will his or her attorney understand the importance for getting those non-drug charges removed through plea bargaining?
- How many non-violent addicts are still being arrested and improperly labeled as drug dealers simply because another addict is trying to get their own possession charges dismissed?
Retaining a competent drug defense attorney can make a huge difference. If you believe that your loved one’s prison release date has not been appropriately reduced in accordance with the new sentencing statutes or, if you or a loved one have recently been arrested on any drug charge, please give us a call at (480) 833-2341.
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