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Report criticizes harsh sentences for minor drug offenses

California residents may be interested in a report released on Oct. 12 by the American Civil Liberties Union that looked at drug possession arrests. It found that significant resources were devoted to prosecuting people for possessing relatively small amounts of drugs and that many people received lengthy prison sentences. The report urged decriminalization of these offenses.

According to the report, four times as many people were taken into custody for possession than for selling drugs. Almost half of the cases were related to marijuana. Despite this, drug use rates have remained steady in the United States for many years. The report recommended that the focus be switched to education and prevention.

The report identified a number of problems within the system. One was that prosecutors sometimes press for the harshest charges possible in hopes of obtaining a plea bargain. This may result in wrongful convictions or in long sentences for minor offenses. People also tend to get caught in a vicious cycle of being unable to pay the legal fees associated with their detention. Being taken into custody could mean losing a job, and people might be unable to find one after a conviction due to a felony on their record. Some of those awaiting a trial for minor charges cannot pay bail and remain in jail at significant cost to the system.

As this report demonstrates, the consequences of drug possession convictions can be severe. They may affect a person's livelihood as well as their legal status. People who are facing charges like these might want to work with an attorney. Legal counsel might seek to get evidence dismissed if it has been obtained improperly or may push for a trial instead of a plea bargain if the prosecutor does not appear to be offering a fair deal.

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