The California State Legislature will consider a bill to allow judges to order probation, rather than jail or prison for persons convicted of possessing drugs, selling drugs or similar offenses, if the court believes it is in the best interests of justice, based on the facts of the case.
Currently there are several types of offenses for which a judge is forced to give jail time, even if they think that is in the best interests of justice and public safety to order probation services and supervision.
“Mandatory jail time is a remnant of the failed War on Drugs,” said Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) “And it is well past time that we returned discretion over individual cases to judges, so that they can decide what’s best for the community based on the facts of the case.
Skinner’s bill, SB 1025 would give the court the right to order probation services and supervision for persons who cannot qualify now, because they have a prior drug conviction, or because the weight is considered too high for probation consideration. For instance, under current law, a person known to be homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted would be forced into jail, if it is the second time they were convicted of attempting to sell a small amount of heroin or cocaine, or if they were in possession of a half ounce or more of heroin.
“Conservative, moderate and liberal experts agree that mandatory minimums are unjust and counterproductive,” said Theshia Naidoo, staff attorney for Drug Policy Alliance, a policy reform group working with Skinner on the bill. “Senator Skinner’s bill will let judges do their job, which is balance the facts presented by prosecutors and defenders, and then decide what is just, and what is most likely to prevent future problems.”
The bill will have its first hearing in Senate Public Safety Committee in March. Senator Skinner is the chair of the committee.
Read the legislation here.