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Photo of Joshua Nielsen
Photo of Joshua Nielsen
Photo of Joshua Nielsen

What the First Step Act tries to accomplish

by | Nov 28, 2018 | criminal defense

The First Step Act is intended to be a method in which the criminal justice system becomes more equitable. It was created through a joint effort from President Trump and the American Civil Liberties Union. However, it is unclear how it will ultimately help those with cases in North Carolina and other states. It is also unclear what its final form will be or if it passes over the objections of those in Congress.

One of its goals is to make it easier for judges to use a safety valve mechanism to get around mandatory minimum sentences. It would allow those with limited criminal histories to potentially benefit from this option. Currently, only those who have no prior criminal history who are being charged with nonviolent drug crimes may avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. The legislation would also make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive to those sentenced before 2010.

This could impact thousands of minority defendants who were victims of the disparity in sentencing for crack crimes. Generally speaking, those who possessed crack cocaine could receive wildly different penalties than those who possessed powdered cocaine. Other benefits would be an increase in good behavior credits as well as prisoners being located within 500 miles of their home or families to make visitation easier.

Those who have been charged with a crime may benefit from having a criminal defense attorney help with their cases. Having legal counsel may make it easier to obtain a favorable outcome in the case whether that means taking a plea or earning an acquittal. If a plea deal is reached, it may result in a defendant pleading guilty to a charge in exchange for others being dropped. This may be done by casting doubt on witness testimony or having evidence suppressed.