Report reveals harsh sentencing in drug possession cases

Massachusetts residents may be interested in the contents of a report from the American Civil Liberties Union that has found that people with relatively low-level drug offenses may still be facing lengthy sentences. According to the ACLU, decades of imprisoning people for drug use and possession has not caused the rate of drug use to decline, and the organization recommends harm reduction, decriminalization and education over charging people with felonies.

The report uncovered a number of problems within the system. Due to prosecutors aggressively pursuing plea bargains, some people might be wrongly imprisoned, or people with only very small amounts of drugs may receive long prison sentences. People may agree to plea bargains because they are facing the harshest charges, but they might still end up with severe penalties even after the agreement.

The report found a number of people languishing in jails who could not afford their bail as they awaited trial. Some died while waiting, and others lost their jobs and were then unable to pay other legal fees. One woman charged with a felony for possessing trace amounts of heroin was facing the loss of her college financial aid as well as trouble finding a place to rent or a job with a felony on her record.

It is important to not underestimate the potential impact of a drug possession conviction. A person's education and job could be at stake in addition to the legal problems and potential penalties. An attorney may look at a number of different elements in deciding how to proceed in such a case. For example, evidence may have been seized illegally, and if this is the case, then the charges might be thrown out. A plea bargain may be the right choice in some cases if a penalty will be substantially reduced.

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