The 2015 Legislative Session in Alabama was a very busy and productive one for criminal defense lawyers. We saw a number of positive changes to the laws affecting drug possession, theft offenses, and sex crimes. Today I am going to focus on the changes to the drug possession laws.
Significant changes are coming to people charged with drugs crimes in Alabama. On January 30, 2016 we will begin seeing new Class D felony offenses involving controlled substances and marijuana.
Under current law a Class C felony offense carries a minimum sentence of not less than 1 year and 1 day and a maximum sentence of not more than 10 years. A person who is convicted of a Class C felony can receive a sentence that includes a term of probation or a sentence that includes time in prison. The habitual felony offender act continues to apply to all Class C felonies and results in increased sentences based on prior felony convictions.
Beginning on January 30, 2016, a Class D felony will carry a minimum sentence of no less than 1 year and 1 day, but will be limited to a maximum sentence of 5 years. Also, a person convicted of a Class D felony will be placed on probation or receive a community corrections sentence. Class D felonies are treated like Class C felonies when (1) the person has been convicted of two or more Class A or Class B felonies OR (2) when the person has been convicted of three or more Class D felonies.
Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (ex. crack and powder cocaine) will now be considered a Class D felony. This involves all cases in which a person is charged with simple possession of illegal drugs (except marijuana).
Unlawful Possession of Marijuana 1st Degree will remain a Class C felony in cases involved possession for other than personal use (evidence of sales). Unlawful Possession of Marijuana 1st Degree will become a Class D felony in cases involving a prior misdemeanor possession of marijuana conviction.
Another important change coming on January 30, 2016 involves the automatic suspension of your Alabama Driver’s License following a conviction for a drug offense. Beginning in January 2016, only people convicted of trafficking and distribution of a controlled substance will lose their driver’s license for a period of 6 months. The mandatory 6 month suspension will no longer apply to simple drug possession or marijuana possession cases. This is a dramatic departure and will allow a large number of people to avoid losing their driver’s license and having to pay large reinstatement fees for simple possession cases.
Stay tuned for updates on the changes to Theft of Property crimes and Sex Crimes coming soon.