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Minnesota residents facing drug convictions face very different punishments

Individuals who face criminal charges related to drug possession, distribution or manufacture face serious penalties including months or years of jail or prison time and probation. While sentencing guidelines for drug crimes exist in Minnesota, sentencing decisions made by individual judges vary greatly throughout the state.

Judges who stray from sentencing guidelines often comment that current state guidelines are overly punitive and seek to punish all offenders, regardless of the type and amount of drugs found, equally. As a result, sentences handed down to two individuals, who are convicted of the same drug crime but live in different counties, may be completely different.

To illustrate this point, a woman who lives in Olmsted Country was sentenced to serve nearly three years in prison after she was found in possession of a very small amount of cocaine. In contrast, a Hennepin County repeat drug offender, who was convicted of first-degree drug possession and sales, should have faced more than 10 years in prison. Instead, he was sentenced to serve what amounted to roughly two months at the county workhouse and five years probation.

In many cases where judges stray from sentencing guidelines, their personal opinions and ethics are major factors. Some judges hold the belief that low-level drug offenders belong in treatment centers not prisons. Others argue that that state's recommended punishment often doesn't fit the crime.

For Minnesota residents facing a possible criminal drug conviction, it's important to seek the advice and assistance of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney who is familiar with county prosecutors and judges is often an individual's best chance at having drug charges dismissed or reduced and potentially avoid being subject to mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Source: Star Tribune, "Drug sentences in state vary by where you live, what judge you face," Brandon Stahl, Feb. 24, 2014

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