A new bill could end mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes
Based on South Carolina’s current criminal statutes, a charge of drug trafficking represents the highest level of drug-related offenses. As noted by The Sun News, a conviction carries a “mandatory minimum” sentencing requirement. Critics of what many say is an outdated approach argue that the minimum state-level sentencing requirements treat first-time offenders and addicts the same as dealers and drug kingpins.
A new bill, recently passed by the South Carolina State House and now on its way to the Senate, intends to update the existing statutes so that judges may use their own discretion in sentencing. Among the updates included, a judge may order a sentence of probation for a drug offense based on whether he or she believes a nonviolent defendant is a user rather than a dealer.
Increasing the substance amounts required for more serious charges
An individual found in possession of 10 grams of cocaine may face a charge of trafficking under the current South Carolina guidelines. The proposed changes, if passed into law, would increase the minimum trafficking amount to 28 grams.
A charge of intent to sell may also bring serious charges leading to incarceration. It currently requires only one ounce of marijuana to have an intent to sell charge. The proposed legislation would increase the amount to 10 ounces.
Bringing the Palmetto State in line with federal drug laws
As noted by U.S. News & World Report, the new legislation would bring the Palmetto State in line with federal sentencing requirements. If signed into law, the lessened sentencing requirements may also save the state prison system more than $3 million.
First-time drug offenders who had no intent to act as dealers may have an opportunity to avoid the potential long-term harm of incarceration. The proposed drug law amendments may enable judges to decide for themselves if a defendant deserves a lesser sentence.