Idaho lawmakers are reviving a bill to give judges more discretion when it comes to sentencing certain people charged with drug trafficking.
The proposal leaves in place suggested minimum sentencing guidelines, but judges could ignore them if he or she thinks imposing it “would result in manifest injustice” or if the minimum sentence “is not necessary for the protection of the public.”
State Reps. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) and Bryan Zollinger (R-Idaho Falls) are the bill’s main sponsors.
“We’ve certainly seen enough transcripts of judges saying, ‘It’s killing me that I have to give this sentence. If I could do any other sentences, I would, but the legislature has tied my hands and forced me to lock you up for this period of time,’” Rubel says.
She says the bill will likely save the state money because it would shave years off of someone’s prison sentence.
The most lenient mandatory minimums under the current drug trafficking law include:
- Marijuana- At least one year in prison and no less than a $5,000 fine for someone possessing more than one but less than five pounds.
- Cocaine- At least three years in prison and no less than a $10,000 fine for someone possessing at least 28 grams, but fewer than 200 grams.
- Methamphetamine- At least three years in prison and no less than a $10,000 fine for someone possessing at least 28 grams, but fewer than 200 grams.
- Heroin- At least three years in prison and no less than a $10,000 fine for someone possessing at least two grams, but fewer than seven grams.
The House easily signed off on the exact same bill introduced last year, but it was bottled up in a Senate committee.
That came amid pushback from prosecutors and law enforcement who told state lawmakers over hours of testimony that dropping mandatory minimum sentences would lead to a torrent of drugs flooding into Idaho.
Families of those convicted of drug trafficking countered that their loved ones could’ve avoided a permanent black mark on their criminal history if judges would’ve had leeway in handing down their sentences.
For example, being found guilty of possessing two grams of heroin would earn you a three-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine under the current law. But family members argue that two grams might last someone just a few days if they’re seriously addicted to the drug.
A hearing for the bill hasn’t yet been scheduled.
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