TRENTON—New Jersey is moving away from mandatory minimum sentencing laws that represent a tough on crime posture in the fight against illegal drugs.
By a vote of 24-11 the state Senate approved legislation, S-1866, sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak of Elizabeth, that would ease sentencing for schoolyard drug dealers.
Although the measure would effectively eliminate drug free school zones, Gov. Jon Corzine has promised that he will sign the legislation if it makes it through the Legislature.
A companion bill passed by the Assembly in 2008, but lawmakers in the lower chamber would have to approve Senate amendments to the bill for it to be signed into law before Corzine leaves office Jan. 11.
The Drug-Free School Zone Act was enacted in 1987 to increase penalties for crimes that expose school-age children to the illegal drug trade.
“The purpose of mandatory minimum sentences is to prevent the judicial trivialization of serious drug crimes,” according to David Risley, an assistant U.S. Attorney, who explained that when judges had unbridled discretion to impose sentences punishment for similar defendants varied widely.
“What some judges treated as serious offenses, and punished accordingly, others minimized with much more lenient sentences,” said Risley. “Ironically, more lenient sentences became particularly prevalent in areas with high volumes of major drug crime, such as large metropolitan and drug importation centers.”
“This legislation doesn’t make New Jersey weaker on the prosecution of crime, but instead makes us smarter in how we treat nonviolent offenders,” said Lesniak.
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