Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Early reporting on KY Task Force on Penal Code proposal

Kentucky drug laws would change under proposal   John Cheeves Bluegrass Politics Blog

More of Kentucky’s drug criminals would be sentenced to probation and addiction treatment instead of incarceration under a broad reform bill proposed Tuesday by a high-powered committee created to find cheaper alternatives to prison.

The Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act is meeting to discuss and sometimes debate a draft of its final proposal for the 2011 General Assembly, which resumes Feb. 1.

The 100-page bill would rewrite many of Kentucky’s criminal laws, especially those concerning illegal drugs.

It would establish a penalty of “presumptive probation” for some lesser offenses, such as drug possession, that would require judges to sentence defendants to probation unless they could give a compelling reason why the defendants could not safely be supervised in the community. It also would require up to a year of addiction treatment for people convicted of drug possession.

Marijuana possession would be reduced from a Class A misdemeanor, which brings up to a year in jail, to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum jail term of 45 days, if the judge ordered incarceration at all.

The bill would fine-tune drug-trafficking laws so that people caught selling larger volumes of drugs would face tougher penalties than those selling two to four ounces or less, depending on the type of drug.

The offense of drug trafficking near a school, which now covers drug crimes within 1,000 yards of a school, would be reduced to 1,000 feet.

At the same time, the proposal would create a new Class A felony — the most serious level of crime, other than a capital offense — for people convicted of “commercial drug trafficking.” That charge would be possible if someone had an illegal drug in quantities greater than five times necessary to trigger the trafficking statute and if they were guilty of at least five of 10 possible aggravating circumstances, such as possessing $10,000 or more in cash, a gun, a list of customers or drug transactions, or drug-manufacturing paraphernalia.

Task force members said they want stiff prison sentences for high-volume drug dealers but not necessarily for addicts whose only crime is personal possession. One-fourth of Kentucky’s nearly 21,000 inmates are being held for drug offenses.

The task force includes the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, a former prosecutor, a defense lawyer, the secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and Kentucky’s chief justice. It will present the draft bill on Wednesday to the legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on the Judiciary.