Drug Possession Is A Common Offense
In a sweeping move which was totally unexpected and unusual (for Utah), the Utah Legislature effectively passed legislation to reduce the population in its jails and prisons by significant numbers. How? By reducing the criminal classification of those who are convicted of drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor for first and second convictions. This is huge.
Criminal defendants who possessed even a gram of cocaine, heroin, or meth, were on the line to serve 0-5 years in prison. Over the years many judges have demonstrated their reluctance to impose any prison time at all on these individuals for many reasons including (1) prison time did not prevent re-offense in most cases; (2) such punishment did not fit the crime of merely possessing a drug; and (3) the prison population is already too dense.
The Utah Legislature finally codified what lawyers and judges have been saying for years: drug possession penalties are too harsh and sweeping reform is needed.
Now, the federal government needs to change its drug laws which imposes minimum mandatory sentences of years in prison for even first time offenders. The individual states are becoming increasingly aware of the burden that drug laws place on people; the federal government needs to fall in line.
When is the New Law Effective?
The new law is not effective until October 1, 2015, but all intents and purposes it is effective immediately because lawyers will do everything possible to delay their drug possession cases until after October 1, 2015 to allow their clients to take advantage of the new law.
This new law also makes it easier for attorneys to be able to better negotiate with prosecutors since they are now forced to work in the misdemeanor range. Some prosecutors, those who feel they have a moral obligation to place drug users in prison, were never willing to negotiate down from a felony even for first time offenders – now they have no choice.
The relevant text of the law will be found in Utah Code 58-7-8(2)(b)(ii) and states that any person possessing “a substance classified in Schedule I or II, or a controlled substance analog, is guilty of a class A misdemeanor on a first or second conviction, and on a third or subsequent conviction is guilty of a third degree felony.”