I’ve never gotten into trouble with the law. I got pulled over for a speeding ticket once, but I looked so distraught, the cop let me go with a warning. I didn’t go a mile over the speed limit for months after that.
That story may make it odd that I’m posting about the criminal system in my home state of Tennessee, but the truth is, I think we are all pretty ignorant of the system, and we really ought to know more, particularly when it comes to drugs. Whether you consider yourself a risk for dealing with the system or not, almost everyone has an opinion about criminal justice these days, and those opinions often aren’t based on any serious understanding of the system itself. You may be a straight shooter like me who never touches even a glass of wine, or you may indulge in some vices from time to time. Regardless, we could all stand to be more aware of the law, so we can know what we want our state to do about drug offenses.
So, I found a helpful resource at Horst Law with a lot of great answers to some important questions, and I thought I’d share some of that here, to at least give us a little more understanding of the system we all play a part in, whether we know it or not.
Let’s start by talking about a very common term most people don’t really understand: “mandatory minimums.” What this means is that the court has only so much leeway in the sentence passed for a conviction. For any felony conviction, for instance, the mandatory minimum is a one-year prison sentence. Class A felony convictions come with a mandatory 15-year sentence. No matter the circumstances of the case, if an individual is convicted of one of these crimes, they have to face a sentence of at least that much time (although longer sentences are possible).
Another set of terms we often hear on TV are “possession” and “possession with intent.” The difference between these two comes down to what law enforcement thinks the individual is going to do with the illegal substance in their possession. Personal use counts as just a possession charge, while having a significant amount of a controlled substance suggests the individual wants to sell or otherwise distribute the substance, which is the “intent” in that second charge. Possession with intent is a more serious crime.
The final term I want to discuss is “conspiracy.” While we all have a pretty good idea of what conspiracy means in a general sense, it has a very specific usage for drug crimes. It allows law enforcement to tie people together to drug crimes who might not have been caught in the act. Sometimes, these acts were otherwise successful, sometimes they never came together. Regardless, anyone scheming about a drug-related crime is at risk of a conspiracy charge.
I don’t know how I feel about all of these parts of the law, honestly. I hope, though, that with a little more understanding of what the words we hear on the news mean, we can have a better conversation about drug laws, what we want from these laws, and how we want to treat those who are convicted under these laws.