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Harm done by criminalization of drug possession

Many people have been incarcerated for the possession of minor amounts of drugs in South Carolina over the last few decades. A report prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch that was released on Oct. 12 indicates that this practice is counterproductive and leads to far too many people being unfairly prosecuted. They recommend that state legislatures decriminalize low-level drug possession and focus on positive goals such as education, harm reduction and prevention.

According to reports there have been several areas in which the constitutional rights of defendants have been weakened through practices of the police and the prosecution. The report found a pattern of improper searches and violation of the rights of the citizenry by the police, including the use of threats and intimidation, and a clear propensity towards unfair enforcement against minorities was discovered.

The report asserts that the abuses do not necessarily end when the defendant is in court. Prosecutors commonly use aggressive tactics against nonviolent drug offenders, sometimes obtaining lengthy prison sentences for extremely minor violations. They also have been shown to misuse the plea bargaining system, using the coercive power of the harsh sentences to force the defendants to plead guilty to smaller charges and accept serious consequences in cases where a neutral observer would very likely conclude that they should not have been punished at all.

As the report shows, a conviction on a drug possession charge, even when the amounts are small and only for personal use, can bring devastating consequences. People who are facing these charges may want to meet with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss how the allegations can be refuted.

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