A proposed new law, SB 1010, which would reduce California penalties for sales of crack cocaine has passed the state senate and is now winding its way through the state assembly. If the bill passes, California Health and Safety Code 11351.5 would be substantially changed.
Under the current law, sales of crack cocaine caries a state prison sentence of 3, 4 or 5 years. The proposed new law would reduce that sentence to 2, 3, or 4 years. The new law also expands the availability of a probationary sentence to people convicted under this section and makes it more difficult for the government to commence forfeiture proceedings against people’s vehicles that are used in connection with the sale of crack cocaine.
This law, if passed, is yet another significant step in the right direction to elevate the disparity of sentences between crack and powder cocaine and hopefully it will pass the senate and signed by the governor.
With all that said though, this law does not go far enough. It is time for the legislature and the governor to tackle another cocaine law that is about 25 years behind the times. I’m talking about Health and Safety Code Section 11350 – simple possession of cocaine – which is still punishable as a straight felony, no matter how minuscule the amount. Like any experienced criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, I have many a story about clients charge with felony possession of cocaine for possessing a few tiny crumbs of the drug.
OK, sure, there is a road to dismissal if one is charged with possession of cocaine. If the defendant qualifies, he or she may be eligible for a deferred entry of judgment (“DEJ”), which allows withdrawal of the guilty plea and dismissal of the case. But that means the defendant is on probation for 18 months with a felony hanging over his or her head. And if the defendant does not qualify for the DEJ and if they’re convicted, then the only shot at a dismissal is enrollment in a more intensive drug program. Whether the defendant actually needs it or not. And if the defendant is not eligible for either, then he or she could very well be facing a straight felony conviction.
Compare this to simple possession of methamphetamine, under Health and Safety Code 11377. If those same few crumbs of cocaine are a few crumbs of meth, you will be charged with a misdemeanor, with no felony exposure whatsoever. There’s plenty of diversionary programs which can get the misdemeanor dismissed altogether. In fact, possession of any narcotic under California state law, other than cocaine or heroin, can be charged as a misdemeanor. How does that make any sense? Cocaine is obviously a drug that is addictive and terrible for your health, but I can’t imagine there’s any reasonable disagreement that methamphetamine is far more dangerous than cocaine.
So yes, the new proposed law modifying the sales of crack cocaine sentencing is a good thing. But here’s hoping the California legislature gets smart on all cocaine laws.
If you or a loved one are facing a drug charge or any criminal offense in California, contact The Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg for a free consultation at (323) 633-3423 or via our confidential contact form.