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Congress Passing Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would Permanently Change Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Drug Crimes


Current legislation that’s been passed by the House and could come before the Senate any day now—known as the “First Step Act”—could finally introduce some fairness into criminal justice reform, especially when it comes to sentencing related to certain drug crimes. In addition to easing sentences for nonviolent crimes, it also calls for a number of reentry and training programs to be introduced to help ex-convicts return to society, as we discuss below.

What Does It Do, Exactly?

The legislation is ambitious, and sets out to do a number of things. Most notably, it clarifies that:

  • Enhanced mandatory minimum sentencing for using a firearm during a drug crime or committing a crime of violence can only be used on offenders who have both been convicted and previously served a sentence for a similar offense (i.e. they cannot be used on first-time offenders);
  • More judicial discretion is permitted in imposing mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug or violent felonies;
  • The three-strike penalty is reduced from life imprisonment to 25 years (and the 20-year minimum is reduced to 15 years) and can only apply to the “worst criminals,” i.e. those convicted of a serious drug or violent felony;
  • There is a limitation on the application of the 10-year mandatory minimum penalty for certain drug offenders;
  • There are new mandatory minimum sentences for domestic violence offenses and a new statutory maximum for Fentanyl;
  • Judges can apply the “safety valve” (i.e. exceptions to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history) if the defendant has fully cooperated with law enforcement and has not used or threatened to use firearms or violence, or caused death or serious bodily injury;
  • Prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 going to into effect can petition the court to review their cases. In addition, any crack cocaine-related sentences imposed prior to the Act would be brought in line with those imposed after the Act went into effect (i.e. decreased);
  • Programs to reduce recidivism and allow prisoners to earn credits, as well as employment and training opportunities and parole programs for juvenile offenders, will be implemented;
  • The compassionate elderly release provision from the Second Chance Act would allow prisoners to request for their compassionate release if they meet the requirements of the law;

Note, however, that prisoners subject to a final order of removal, including illegal immigrants, are not eligible for the credit program.

Contact Our North Carolina Criminal & Drug Defense Lawyers

Until we pass some criminal justice reform, drug crimes are still one of the most serious charges you can face. This also means that innocent people are charged disproportionately to their roles.

If you live in North Carolina and have been charged with a drug crime, contact us today at Hauter Law Firm, PC to speak with our experienced drug crime defense attorneys.



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