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What Connecticut’s changing drug laws mean for criminal defendants

On behalf of Heath Harte

In July, 2015 Connecticut passed legislation continuing criminal justice reform for drug crimes. What does that mean for you?

The war on drugs, it is widely noted, has not been successful. Mandatory minimum sentences and “tough on crime” drug laws led to prison overpopulation and did nothing to help individuals suffering from drug abuse and addiction. Nor did these laws allow offenders to reintegrate into society after completing their sentence.

It is a topic that social rights advocates and criminal defense lawyers care passionately about. You can read more about the changing national perceptions of “tough on crime” drug laws here.

Arrests, jail time down in Connecticut

Connecticut is seen as ahead of the curve on criminal justice reform. On July 15, President Obama recognized former Stamford Mayor and current Governor Dannel P. Malloy for the strides Connecticut has made improving drug laws in the state.

For example, in July Connecticut passed the “Second Chance Society” bill which eliminates mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug possession charges and reduces the penalty of drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. The measure also encourages parole for non-violent offenders. According to numbers provided by Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor, there has been almost a 30 percent drop in arrests during the first six months of 2015 in the state.

For people in Connecticut charged with drug possession or other drug crime, the question is obvious: what does “reform” mean for me?

Drug crimes still prosecuted vigorously

The first thing to note is that there are numerous drug laws on the books and many substances – including marijuana – remain illegal to use recreationally. Connecticut’s drug laws are still strictly enforced.

While some mandatory minimums for non-violent drug possession charges have been eliminated in the state, that does not mean if arrested you are not facing jail time. It simply means that the judge presiding over your case is not forced to send you to jail for a certain amount of time – but is still free to do so if you are found guilty and he or she feels it is an appropriate sentence under Connecticut’s laws.

In addition, many of the circumstances surrounding a typical arrest can lead to an enhanced criminal charge. For example, possession of an illegal substance within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare center is still a felony. Distribution of an illegal substance (drug trafficking) is a felony. And if large amounts of an illegal substance are found in your possession, distribution can be presumed.

Finally, there is no such thing as “minor” criminal charges. Facing a misdemeanor criminal charge can mean significant penalties. It can affect your ability to go to college, find a high-paying job, and even volunteer in the community. While it is better to be charged with a misdemeanor than a felony, it is best to be found not guilty of any crime at all.

Help with criminal defense

Drug and sentencing laws are extremely complicated. If you are facing criminal charges for drug possession, the circumstances surrounding your arrest are extremely important to the charges you are facing and your best options for defending yourself. One example: Is alternative sentencing an option?

For help with your specific criminal law defense matter, contact Heath D. Harte, a Stamford, Connecticut criminal defense attorney with years of experience defending against criminal drug charges.

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