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Lawmakers discuss change to sentencing for drug crimes

As issues related to opiods continue to make headlines, lawmakers across the country are taking a second look at the way in which drug crimes are handled. In North Carolina, a legislative task force on Sentencing Reforms for Opioid Drug Convictions has advised that there may be upcoming changes to mandatory minimum sentencing in drug crimes. If implemented, these changes could give judges more discretion in the length of sentences for crimes such as heroin possession.

The discussion comes after other states made similar changes to mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related charges. This involved the creation of a "safety valve," which would allow a judge to hand down a lighter sentence for certain defendants. There is also a safety valve in federal law, though it is extremely limited and cannot be accessed by anyone accused of using a firearm or leading a drug dealing operation.

In other states like Oklahoma, the safety valve is used when considering defendants with mental health issues or substance addiction. Violent criminals and sex offenders are typically not covered by safety valve exceptions. If implemented in North Carolina, lawmakers would need to debate the criteria based on trends and issues present in the state.

According to advocacy groups, 35 states have amended or eliminated mandatory minimums. North Carolina is among the minority of states that still have mandatory minimums without exceptions. This reality means that people accused of drug crimes in the state may face longer sentences regardless of their circumstances, so working with a defense attorney is a good idea when facing criminal allegations.

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