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Iowa Legislature approves drug sentencing reform

Many people around the country, including some Iowa legislators, are coming around to the view that the "War on Drugs" that began in the 1980s was seriously misguided. It resulted in an exploding prison population, including many people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. And it has been partially responsible for a disproportionate incarceration of minorities. In Iowa, African-Americans make up only 3.4 percent of the population, but comprise 25.5 percent of those in state prisons and 35.8 percent of federal prisoners within the state.

The Iowa Legislature recently passed a criminal justice reform law that includes a provision reducing the harshness of sentences for those convicted of some drug offenses. Under the legislation, individuals convicted of some nonviolent drug crimes would become eligible for parole once they had served half of the required minimum sentence for the crime.

The measure is part of a criminal justice reform package that also reduces the charge for nonviolent attempted robbery from a felony to an aggravated misdemeanor and creates a mandatory minimum sentence for child endangerment that results in a minor's death. At the time this post was written the legislation was on its way to Governor Branstad for signature. Whether he signs it is yet to be seen, but in the past he has supported efforts to reduce the state's prison population.

Even if the War on Drugs may be over, that doesn't mean drug charges should be taken lightly by anyone facing them in Iowa. The federal and state penalties for drug trafficking and manufacturing are still severe. A person charged with a drug-related offense has the right to an attorney of their choice and the right to fight the charges in court. With the right defense strategy, it may be possible to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Source: The Courier, "Iowa lawmakers approve 'significant' criminal justice reform," Erin Murphy, May 4, 2016

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