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marijuana, decriminalization, Lake County drug crime defense lawyerLawmakers in Illinois took a major step toward the decriminalization of low-level marijuana possession this week as the State Senate approved a measure that was drafted to address Governor Bruce Rauner’s concerns from last year. If enacted, Illinois would join 20 other states and the District of Columbia which have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Decriminalization, Not Legalization

While many around the state and across the country continue to push for the outright legalization of recreational marijuana, the bill currently before the legislature would do no such thing.  Instead, it would remove the possibility of criminal prosecution for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. Low-level possession would still be against the law, but it would be addressed as a civil offense, similar to a traffic violation. Possession of more than 10 grams could still be prosecuted in criminal court, with penalties dependent upon the circumstances of each case.

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NPR recently reported on a new study that says the U.S. Justice Dept. regularly intimidates defendants who have been charged with federal drug offenses with stiff sentences prison sentences, or piling on additional charges, in order to pressure those defendants to plead guilty.

The study was conducted by Human Rights Watch, who issued their findings in a report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.” The report gives details about federal prosecutors charge defendants with crimes that carry severe mandatory prison sentences if they are found guilty – the group refers to the severity of the sentences as “draconian” in their report. In attempts at plea-bargaining, the federal prosecutors then offer much lighter sentences in exchange for guilty pleas.

Typically, the choice is plead guilty and receive a ten year prison sentence or go to trial and risk receiving a life sentence if found guilty. According to the study, 97 percent of defendants take the deals that federal prosecutors offer them, especially since most defendants charged with drug offenses are found guilty in federal courts.

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