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Repeat Offenders in Michigan Drug Cases May Face Longer Prison Sentences

Earlier this week in Iron County, a couple pleaded guilty to charges alleging that they distributed heroin and other controlled substances. According to a story by ABC10, the male defendant pleaded guilty to distribution of less than fifty grams of heroin and was sentenced to 18 months to 25 yearsin prison. He also pleaded guilty to two other charges alleging he distributed non-narcotic drugs, which resulted in an additional 1-2 year sentence. All sentences are to be served concurrently, meaning they will all be served at the same time.

One of the man’s female codefendants was charged, and pleaded guilty to, two felony offenses of distribution of heroin. As a third-time offender, she was sentenced to 2-40 years.

Repeat Drug Offenses in Michigan Michigan, like most other states, has what is called a “habitual offender” law. The most famous–or infamous– version of a habitual offender law was California’s now-defunct “three strikes law.” At the heart of any habitual offender law is the idea that the law should punish those who repeatedly break similar laws more harshly, and in some cases extremely harshly.

In Michigan drug cases, the habitual offender law acts to increase the length of a defendant’s sentence for any conviction after his or her first. For example, under Section 333.7413 of the Michigan Public Health Code, anyone convicted of a drug offense for a second time can be sentenced to a term of imprisonment up to twice as long as the original offense allows.

How Habitual-Offender Laws Work Take the above example, where the female codefendant was charged as a three-time repeat offender. The maximum sentence for a first-time offender for distribution of heroin in the amount she was found with is usually 20 years. Here, however, the defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment up to 40 years. This “double-length” sentence is due entirely to the fact that she was a repeat offender and qualified for enhanced punishment.

Some offenses may result in an automatic life sentence if a defendant is convicted of that offense for a second time. For example, distribution or manufacture of a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 narcotic in an amount of more than 50 grams will result in a prison term of no more than 25 yearsfor a first offense. However, if that individual is convicted of that same crime again, the sentence will be an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole or probation.

In the instance of an automatic life sentence, the judge or jury has no discretion and must sentence the defendant to the required life sentence. However, for all other drug crimes, the repeat-offender status merely increases the potential maximum of the sentence. In other words, a judge or jury, if they chose, could opt to sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment in line with the first-offender range.

If you have been accused or charged with a drug offense in the Detroit metropolitan area, you need an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and you are afforded the fair trial that the Constitution guarantees you. Attorney Steven L. Schwartz is a dedicated and passionate advocate for the accused who has over 25 years of experience in the Detroit area. To schedule a free initial consultation, please call (248) 266-8720.

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