Michigan Legislature Repeals Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws 12/20/02

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The Michigan Senate approved historic rollbacks of the state's mandatory minimum drug laws on December 12. The Michigan House approved the bills a week earlier. By all accounts, Gov. John Engler (R) will shortly sign the bills into law. The three bills approved by the legislature -- HB 5394, HB 5395 and HB 6510 -- will eliminate most mandatory sentences and restore a measure of judicial discretion in sentencing.

Michigan went on a drug war imprisonment rampage beginning in 1978, but by the mid-1990s the prohibitionist consensus began to fray under the weight of mass incarceration. In 1998, in response to a campaign spearheaded by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (http://www.famm.org), the legislature relaxed the state's draconian "650 Lifer Law," which mandated life without parole for anyone convicted of distribution or conspiracy to distribute more than 650 grams of heroin or cocaine.

Former Gov. William Milliken (R), who signed the 1978 mandatory minimum laws, joined the reformers' camp this year. He said signing those bills was "the worst mistake of my life."

Milliken was part of a remarkable coalition engineered by FAMM to win change in the legislature. Support from law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as from social and religious groups and especially the families of prisoners, allowed FAMM to craft a winning political movement, said Monica Pratt, director of communications for the group. The coalition included the Prosecuting Attorneys' Association of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals, the Michigan Judiciary Association, the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Detroit NAACP, along with legislators on both sides of the aisle and in both houses.

"This major step brings fairness back to the judicial system in Michigan," said state Rep. Bill McConico (D-Detroit), chief sponsor of the bills. "The overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation shows it is not a partisan issue. We were able to unite Republicans, Democrats, prosecutors, judges and families in the common cause of sentencing justice. Now we can reunite families, reallocate resources and allow judges to do their job."

Even prosecutors got on board. "Michigan's prosecutors recognize that an effective drug policy is a combination of criminal justice strategies, readily available drug treatment programs, incarceration where appropriate, and prevention activities in schools, businesses, and homes," said David Morse, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Here's what HB 5394 and HB 5395 will do:

  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and lifetime probation for drug offenses;
  • Allow judges to use Michigan's sentencing guidelines to impose sentences based on all the facts of each case (criminal history, use of weapon, other offenses), not just drug weight;
  • Restore judges' discretion to "fit the punishment to the crime," meaning that the longest sentences (and biggest investment in expensive prison beds) will be reserved for the most serious offenders;
  • Replace lifetime probation for the lowest level drug offenses with the standard five-year probationary period used for other serious crimes;
  • Allow judges to impose consecutive (stacked) sentences for delivery offenses but eliminate mandatory consecutive sentencing for possession offenses;
  • Increase guideline penalties for the most serious offenses;
  • Create new sentencing ranges (the minimum and maximum penalties) and drug amounts for each offense level over 50 grams; and
  • Increase penalties for delivery in a home where a minor resides and for multiple (over 50 gram) offenses.
Here's what HB 6510 will do:
  • Replace lifetime probation with a five-year probationary period and allow the court to discharge current offenders from lifetime probation who have successfully completed five years; and
  • Allow earlier parole eligibility for prisoners serving "under-650" mandatory minimum and mandatory consecutive drug offenses. This does not guarantee parole, but simply provides parole eligibility (similar to the parole eligibility provisions for "650 Lifers" enacted in 1998).
For the texts and legislative history of the bills, go to http://www.michiganlegislature.org and type in the bill numbers.

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Issue #268, 12/20/02 Special Offer Continues -- DRCNet Needs Your Help! | Editorial: Expanding the Chorus | 108 Euro-Parliamentarians Call for Legal, Regulated Drug Trade, Reform of UN Conventions | Congressional Drug Warrior Having Doubts: Dan Burton's Near Epiphany | Michigan Legislature Repeals Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws | Canadian Marijuana Activists Skeptical on Decrim | Canadian Supreme Court Postpones Marijuana Cases, Cites Parliament Report, Justice Minister Statement on Decrim | DRCNet Book Review: "Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington's War on Drugs" | And the Winners Are | Federal Judge Shows Keen Interest in Raich/Monson Medical Marijuana Case | Bolivia Coca Growers Announce Blockades for January 6 -- Will Continue Dialogue | DC Measure 62 Clears Hurdle, Goes to Congress 268/jeffjones Newsbrief: Oakland Cannabis Co-op Director Founded Guilty on Federal Jury Tampering Charges, Handed Out Flyer at Epis Trial | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: Stop the Presses! Poor, Blacks Face Brunt of Houston Drug War | Newsbrief: Texas ACLU Report Slams Task Forces, Calls for End to $200 Million Annual Boondoogle | Newsbrief: MPP Continues "War on Drug Czar" -- More Complaints to be Filed, O'Reilly Appearance Tonight | Newsbrief: Budget Cuts Free Kentucky Drug Prisoners -- Oklahoma Next? | Newsbrief: Nickelodeon Censors Beverly Hillbillies Marijuana References | Newsbrief: Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional in New Jersey | Media Scan: Joycelyn Elders in Globe and Mail, George McMahon in Fort Worth Weekly, Jeff and Tracy, Santa Fe New Mexican, Medscape | DC Job Opportunities at DRCNet | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Tulia, Salvia Divinorum | The Reformer's Calendar
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