How Wrong Conviction Causes Innocent People to Suffer Years in Jail
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) makes more than 30,000 drug-related arrests every year. Drug-related activities are serious federal and state crimes. These activities include simple possession, possession with intent, sale of a controlled substance, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, and drug conspiracy. Punishment for those convicted can include mandatory sentence, steep fines, and possibly many hours of community service, among others. A mandatory sentence is a penalty that a court must hand down to a person convicted of an offense. Felony offenses, under state law, for example, are punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of at least one year imprisonment. Class A felonies, which are the most serious, carry a minimum of 15 years jail time. Mandatory minimum sentences, however, may be increased due to certain factors, such as prior convictions and aggravating factors.
Two specific arrests frequently made by state and federal arresting officers are simple possession of illegal drugs and possession with intent. Simple possession alleges that an individual possesses a controlled substance for his/her own personal use (illegal or controlled substance includes cocaine, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy). Heroin, marijuana and ecstasy are Schedule I drugs or drugs with no currently accepted medical use and which have a high potential for abuse; cocaine, on the other hand, is a Schedule II drug or a type of illegal drug that also has a high potential for abuse; use of drugs under this category can potentially lead to severe psychological or physical dependence too.
Possession with intent is an activity that is more serious than simple possession. It alleges that a person who possesses illegal drugs has intent to sell, distribute, deliver, or even manufacture a controlled substance since the amount of drugs that he/she possesses is obviously too much for any one person to use. Besides possession of an amount of drugs to much for one’s own use, the presence of some items, like sand/mall plastic bags, containers, or scales are also more likely indicative of a possessor’s intent to sell. A simple possession may only be a misdemeanor; possession with intent, though, is always considered by state and federal authorities as a felony.
While it is only right to catch and punish those involved in drug crimes and drug-related activities, there is the unfortunate reality of innocent people being made to suffer years of jail term due to wrong conviction. This can be due to:
Systemic bias, or institutional bias. This refers to an inherent tendency to support particular outcomes (such as excluding black jurors from cases involving African Americans);
“Tunnel vision” or confirmation bias.” This involves forming an initial impression about one person’s guilt, and then tunneling or focusing on proving that person’s guilt while overlooking exculpatory information and other suspects; and,
Plea bargaining. This is a case wherein an accused confesses to a crime that he/she did not commit in exchange for a minimum sentence for the offense he/she is being charged with. While a plea bargain would save a person from a lengthy time in jail, it also forgoes the necessity of a trial wherein he/she can prove his/her innocence.
Unlike the state system, many federal charges for possession with the intent to distribute can be punished by life sentences. As unlikely as it may be to actually get a life sentence in some cases, the fact that it is even within the realm of possibility should motivate you to do everything you can to protect yourself during the coming legal process. Aside from the prison terms that can be handed down in some cases, the federal courts have the power to level multi-million dollar fines against you if you are convicted. When these charges are considered to be second or even third offenses, their potential penalties are significantly increased; in fact, every third offense on these charges is punishable only by a life sentence.
Despite calls upon state and federal lawmakers to ease sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, the fact remains that a conviction at the state level and especially at the federal level can dramatically change your life. That being said, if you have been arrested for selling drugs and charged with a serious drug offense, you will need to do everything in your power to defend your rights and to protect your future from the consequences of a conviction. Reaching out to a seasoned drug crime defense attorney as soon after your arrest as you are able, may just be the key to defending your rights and saving yourself from a conviction.