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H.256

Introduced by   Representatives Kiss of Burlington, Cross of Winooski, Edwards of Brattleboro, Kitzmiller of Montpelier, Marek of Newfane, McLaughlin of Royalton, Seibert of Norwich, Sharpe of Bristol and Zuckerman of Burlington

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Health; possession and control of regulated drugs

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to recognize treatment over incarceration as the preferred response to drug addiction and drug-related crime, and recommend a suspended sentence and probation for nonviolent offenders charged with a first or second drug possession offense.  Probation would include mandatory drug screening and treatment.  The bill also repeals the law that permits a person who is convicted of a second or subsequent drug offense to be sentenced to twice the prison term and double the fine authorized by the underlying statute.

AN ACT RELATING TO SENTENCING RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FIRST OR SECOND OFFENSE ILLEGAL DRUG POSSESSION

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  18 V.S.A. § 4253 is added to read:

§ 4253.  SENTENCING RECOMMENDATIONS

(a)  The general assembly finds that:

(1)  Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing physiological condition that requires treatment.  The rise of drug use and drug-related criminal activity is increasing in Vermont at an alarming rate, and it afflicts many families and all communities in Vermont

(2)  The traditional punitive adjudication approach to drug-related crime has not proven effective in curbing addiction or the crime that results from addiction, and there is no indication that incarceration without treatment offers much hope for the future. 

(3)  The overall costs to the criminal justice system and Vermont communities that will inevitably result from continuing to deal with drug‑related offenders in the traditional manner and the high rates of recidivism resulting urgently require an examination of the traditional approach and serious consideration of alternatives based upon the evidence that treatment works.

(4)  Shifting from a punitive to a treatment approach for addressing the problem of drug-related crime is proving to be successful as evidenced by the hundreds of drug courts that have employed such a model and helped over 100,000 drug-addicted defendants become drug-free.  While not a panacea for addressing drug abuse in the offender population, the drug court’s effectiveness compared with the punitive process has clearly resulted in reduced recidivism and improved social functioning in participants.

(5)  Drug court programs have recently been implemented by some communities in Vermont, and the general assembly believes strongly in these programs and commends the leaders in those communities for stepping forward to be the first in a new approach to drug-related crimes in Vermont.   

(6)  Unfortunately, drug court is not available in most areas of the state at this time, and space is limited in the courts that are currently operating.  Therefore, the general assembly recommends that treatment, not incarceration, shall be the preferred sentencing solution for nonviolent persons who are charged with a first or second offense for possession of a small amount of a regulated drug.

(7)  There are a number of factors that influence the sentence that a court may impose.  Therefore, the general assembly intends for courts to retain discretion in sentencing for drug offenses.  However, it is the intent of the general assembly that the guiding policy for sentencing of drug offenders charged with minor possession should be treatment rather than incarceration.  This section is not intended to interfere in any way with the operation of drug courts currently operating in Vermont.

(b)  The general assembly recommends imposition of sentence be suspended and the defendant placed on probation with conditions set forth as in subsection (d) of this section for the following offenses under this title:

(1)  § 4230(a)(1) (possession of marijuana).

(2)  § 4231(a) (possession of cocaine).

(3)  § 4232(a)(1) (possession of LSD).

(4)  § 4233(a)(1) (possession of heroin).

(5)  § 4234(a)(1) (possession of a depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug).

(6)  § 4234a(a)(1) (possession of methamphetamine).

(7)  § 4235(b)(1) (possession of a hallucinogenic drug).

(8)  § 4235a(a)(1) (possession of Ecstasy).

(c)  The sentencing recommendation in subsection (b) of this section shall only apply under the following circumstances:

(1)  The defendant has no more than one prior conviction for possession of a regulated drug.

(2)  The defendant has no prior convictions for selling or dispensing a regulated drug.

(3)  The defendant has no pending criminal charges involving violence.

(d)  The conditions of probation ordered pursuant to subsection (b) of this section shall be as follows:

(1)  The defendant shall not possess or use any regulated drug without a prescription.

(2)  The defendant shall attend and participate in any drug screening, counseling or treatment and rehabilitation as directed by his or her probation officer and complete the same to the satisfaction of the probation officer.

(3)  The defendant shall allow any drug treatment program to disclose to the probation officer and the court information about his or her attendance, participation, and progress in the program.

(4)  The defendant shall attend and participate in any residential treatment program as directed by his or her probation officer and complete the same to the satisfaction of the probation officer.

(e)  The general assembly recommends that probation be ordered for not more than three years for a first or second offense listed in subsection (b) of this section.

Sec. 2.  REPEAL

18 V.S.A. § 4238 (second and subsequent offenses) is repealed.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us