Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom ended a decades-old law that required judges to enforce a minimum incarceration when sentencing nonviolent drug offenders. The requirement of mandatory minimum sentences was born out of War on Drugs-era thinking that has led to mass incarceration state-wide. Those incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes may be better served by rehabilitation and treatment, but judges’ hands were previously tied concerning alternate sentences.

These mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses have been done away with in California. That means that if you’ve been charged with a nonviolent drug crime, there’s the potential to avoid jail time. Read more to find out how you can avoid incarceration with the help of a California attorney who is experienced in drug offense cases.

History of Mandatory Sentences for Nonviolent Drug Crimes

Mandatory minimum sentences were established in California in the 1970s during the height of Nixon’s War on Drugs. These laws were put in place to act as a deterrent for individuals to possess and sell illegal drugs. However, minimum sentences have not lowered drug crime rates in the ways expected. Instead, many officials and organizations have asserted a disproportionate effect on communities of color. Now, California is changing this 50-year-old law that has been proven ineffective and costly to communities.

What is a Nonviolent Drug Offense in California?

A nonviolent drug offense in California law depends on what the federal government defines as a controlled substance in the United States Controlled Substances Act. These substances include marijuana, heroin, peyote, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription drugs such as codeine and some hallucinogenic drugs. Defined under California’s Proposition 36, a nonviolent drug offense is simply unlawful possession of these substances OR a charge of being under the influence of any of the listed substances.

What potential consequences will I face if convicted of a Nonviolent Drug Crime?

Here are some possible consequences and restrictions you could face if convicted of a nonviolent drug crime:

  • Probation
  • Jail time
  • Mandated drug court
  • Community service
  • Housing opportunity restrictions
  • Employment opportunity restrictions
  • Firearm restrictions
  • Motor vehicle license restrictions
  • Family or domestic right restrictions (custody)
  • Education restrictions
  • Restrictions on political or civil participation (voting)
  • Government loan and grant restrictions
  • Restrictions on government program participation
  • Occupational, business, or professional licensure restrictions
  • Restrictions on property rights

What to Do When Charged with a Nonviolent Drug Crime

So what does a lack of mandatory minimum sentences mean for you if you’ve been arrested for a nonviolent drug crime? First of all, this change means that if you’ve committed a nonviolent drug offense, the judge for your case is not forced to sentence you to jail time. 

Second, it’s more important than ever to hire an attorney that’s experienced in drug crimes. Because a judge is now able to rely more heavily on their own discretion when determining sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, you need someone on your side who knows the ins and outs of the laws surrounding your case in order to convince a judge that incarceration is not in the best interest of you or your community.

Lawyers in drug cases typically have three directions to take their defense:

  • The offender did not actually possess the drug. This usually consists of an assertion that the drugs belonged to someone besides the offender. This can be a successful defense because it is often difficult for prosecutors to prove ownership of the illicit substances.
  • The offender had a prescription for the drug so it was not illegal. This defense is fairly straightforward: if a prior prescription can be proven, then the offender is legally allowed to possess the drug.
  • The drugs were discovered under an unlawful search of the offender. This 4th Amendment defense is successful because police need a reason and to follow proper due process before any searches or seizures can occur. Authorities are only allowed to seize drugs that are in plain view.

Finding the Right Defense Lawyer for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

Though the removal of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders can work in favor of offenders, it’s vital to attain experienced legal counsel in order to successfully avoid incarceration. This change in California law means that attorney advice is paramount to persuade a judge that rehabilitation, treatment or probation are in the best interest of both the offender and their community. To begin your journey to a successful defense of nonviolent drug charges, contact the Law Offices of Grant Bettencourt for experienced counsel in California.