A New Bill Would Stop the Feds From Tossing Drug Defendants in Prison Before They’re Convicted
A bipartisan trio of senators has introduced a bill that could potentially keep people charged with federal drug crimes out of unnecessary pretrial detention. Sens. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.), Mike Lee (R–Utah), and Chris Coons (D–Del.) have introduced the Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020.
Currently, if you’re arrested for federal drug charges, a judge will determine your release conditions on the presumption that you will be let free, unless the judge concludes you’re a danger to the community or a flight risk. This, logically, is how pretrial detention should be handled in accordance with the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. People who are suspected of crimes, but not yet convicted, shouldn’t be treated as guilty and imprisoned solely on the basis of unproven suspicion.
However, if you face a federal drug charge with a potential sentence of more than 10 years, the judge is required to treat you with the presumption that you will be detained, just as if you’d a serious violent federal offense and even if no violence was involved in your drug case. As a result, Durbin’s office noted, defendants charged with drug crimes end up being stuck in jail in two-thirds of federal cases. The average defendant will spend 255 days in pretrial detention without having been convicted of a crime.
Durbin, Lee, and Coons’ bill will put all drug offenses on the same level. People charged with drug offenses that could potentially result in long prison sentences will no longer be treated with a presumption or pre-trial detention. But this is also not a “Get Out of Jail Free” pass. A judge can still order the confinement of
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