Since the now infamous “War on Drugs” began way back in the 1970s, both societal views, as well as state and federal laws relating to controlled substances, have changed dramatically. Over the intervening four decades, the federal government, and most states, have completely overhauled their sentencing laws for crimes involving controlled substances. Many of those laws now require a defendant to serve a minimum mandatory sentence if convicted. At one time, these mandatory minimums were applauded by citizens; however, after seeing some of the unintended consequences of these laws, many lawmakers are rethinking their effectiveness. In fact, as of 2017, the State of Nebraska lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s mandatory sentencing statutes for lesser crimes that involve the possession of a controlled substance. For anyone facing charges, either at the state or federal level, for a drug-related crime, an Omaha drug felony lawyer explains mandatory sentencing.
State vs. Federal Prosecutions
When people talk about mandatory sentencing, it is important to be clear whether they are referring to sentencing at the state or federal level. In the United States, we operate a federalist form of government which means we have a strong central government (the federal government) and many smaller semi-autonomous governments (state governments). Consequently, we also have two different judicial systems, the federal and state court systems. This means that an individual could be prosecuted in federal court, in a state court, or in both for some types of crimes. For example, the possession, cultivation, manufacture, or sale of a controlled substance violates both federal and state laws. The one exception to this is that many states have now made possession of marijuana legal, creating an interesting quandary considering the fact that it remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government. Since Nebraska is not one of the states that have legalized marijuana, it isn’t a dilemma for Nebraska residents – marijuana remains illegal by both state and federal law. As a practical matter, federal law enforcement authorities typically only investigate, arrest, and prosecute large trafficking operations. Lessor crimes of possession or even sales of smaller quantities are almost always tried by state authorities. Both the U.S government and the State of Nebraska, however, impose mandatory sentences for certain drug-related offenses.
What is a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
Because not all crimes nor all defendants are equal, it has always been important to provide a sentencing range for a judge to use when sentencing a defendant. This is why you typically hear a sentence referred to as “10 to 20” or “up to 20 years.” The range provides flexibility in sentencing to take into account factors such as the defendant’s criminal history and the aggravating or mitigating factors. If the offense has a mandatory minimum sentence, however, it means that the judge must sentence the defendant to at least that much time in prison. When an offense has a mandatory minimum it also means that the judge cannot suspend the sentence and order the defendant to serve any of the time on probation instead of in jail or prison. Finally, it means that the defendant must serve at least that much time before being eligible for parole. For example, if the crime carries a sentence of 5-20 with a mandatory minimum of five years it means the defendant could get anywhere from five to 20 years but the first five years cannot be suspended. Many of Nebraska’s drug laws carry mandatory minimum sentences of three to five years or more, depending on the type and quantity of the controlled substance involved. At the federal level, you could be facing a mandatory sentence of 20 years or even life for distribution of large quantities of a controlled substance if someone was injured or killed as a result of the crime. Even without injury or death, you could be facing a mandatory sentence of five to 10 years for many federal drug offenses.
Before you decide how to proceed with your case (negotiating a plea agreement versus trial) it is imperative that you understand the sentence you face if convicted.
Contact the Omaha Drug Felony Lawyer at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a drug-related criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, consult with an experienced Omaha, Nebraska drug crimes lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.