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Badon Bill Seeks Reduced Prison Sentences for Pot
In November 2012, the latest round of elections put a number of politicians in office for another term or the first time. Now, as the start of the legislative session looms (April 8), NoDef is taking the time to look at the actual work these politicians are planning for this year -- what they hope to be the fruits of their labor. Once again, State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) is proving himself to be in the weeds with HB 103, which sets to create more appropriate sentences for marijuana and cannabinoid offenses.
The sentences that could help boost the state's economy by collecting fines, and reducing the state's world-record prison population with more realistic sentencing guidelines.
The proposed changes to the law would amend the criminal penalties for, "second and subsequent convictions of possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids and prohibits the application of the Habitual Offender Law to possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoid offenses," the bill's abstract states.
For the first offense remains as a maximum of $500 fine or six months in jail. For the second offense, the penalty is reduced from a maximum $2,500 fine to a $500 fine or a year in prison. It would also repeal the provision in the current law that have special probation criteria for the second offense.
The new law also creates hierarchy, by distinguishing between the third and subsequent offenses, and also creates a distinction for these drug offenses and violent felonies that should earn someone decades in prison.
Penalties for a third offense comes down from a 20-year sentence and a possible $5,000 fine to a fine of $2,000, a prison term of no more than two-years, or both. Finally, any other violations would either be fined $2,000, no more than five-years in prison, or both. This brings down the potential penalty for offenders from the 20-years prescribed by the habitual offenders statute (commonly called three-strikes laws).
The proposed law also accommodates motions to reconsider sentencing for those who are or would have been forced to serve the previous maximums, or those serving under the habitual offenders statute.
"Proposed law removes possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids as a possible offense for which an offender may be sentenced pursuant to the Habitual Offender Law," the abstract for HB 103 says. "[Also] proposed law authorizes a defendant who is incarcerated after having been convicted of and sentenced according to the provisions of [the] present law regarding possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids or present law habitual offender provisions, wherein at least one of the offenses which forms the basis for such sentence is a conviction for possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids... if the defendant has served at least half of the maximum term of imprisonment provided for in proposed law."
Essentially, if one of the felony convictions that would have had an offender serving life was handed down because of marijuana, that person could file a motion to have the judgement reconsidered under the sentencing guidelines outlined in the new law, as long as they have served half the maximum sentence.
As of 2012, Louisiana held the honor of having the highest prison population in the world, with an estimated 40,000 people locked up in the state's prisons. That number is cited as thirteen times times the total number of inmates in Chinese prisons. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that more than 12-percent of inmates at the state and federal levels are serving for marijuana offenses, costing Americans an estimated one billion dollars a year (that's with nine zeroes people).
The bill goes before the legislature this session, which commences Monday, April 8.
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B. E. Mintz
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