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Ohio voters could change drug sentencing standards

Ohio voters will have the opportunity to amend the state's constitution to change the way certain drug offenses are classified. If voters approve of the state's only ballet issue, low-level, non-violent possession charges would be considered a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony. The adjustment would mean individuals charged with crimes of this nature could no longer be sentenced to serve jail time in a state prison. Supporters and opponents have weighed in on the issue.

Those who support the change in how minor drug charges are classified say it would allow funds to be redirected from what's needed to cover incarceration costs to money that could be used for treatment options for offenders. Opponents argue that taking discretion with potential penalties away from judges may undermine the ability to keep offenders in treatment programs. Existing Ohio law makes drug-related offenses a fourth or fifth-degree felony. Judges currently have the option to sentence individuals up to 18-months in state prison.

If the issue is approved by voters, a misdemeanor classification would take jail time off the table. However, individuals charged for a third time for the same type of drug offense within a two-year period would still face the possibility of jail time. The amendment would not apply to higher-degree felonies. If passed, the adjustment to sentencing guidelines would allow individuals previously sentenced to seek reclassification of their convictions. Voter approval could also result in some offenders being released from prison, especially those who already participated in required treatment programs.

When an Ohio resident is charged with drug possession or a similar offense, an attorney typically examines the circumstances surrounding the arrest. In some instances, a criminal defense lawyer might question the search and seizure procedures that resulted in discovering the drugs in the first place. Defense techniques will vary based on circumstances. If other individuals were present, for example, an attorney may pressure prosecutors to prove that the discovered evidence actually belonged to their client and not somebody else.

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