Kentucky becomes the latest state to reign in corrections costs by enacting sentencing reforms. Not to be outdone, a Texas county has gotten creative with drug sentencing in the case of Willie Nelson.
Governor Steve Beshear signed Kentucky’s HB 463 into law on March 3. “This overhaul of Kentucky’s penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches,” said Gov. Beshear. “Over the last three years, we’ve made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky’s penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime.”
Kentucky’s law calls for probation for small time drug possession charges. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available. The law reduces penalties for small time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. It also decreases the drug free zone from 1000 yards to 1000 feet.
“Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that’s a Class C felony,” said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you’ll be looking at one-to-five,” he told the Chronicle.
The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.
In November, Willie Nelson was pulled over at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Hudspeth County, Texas. Officers smelled marijuana and when a search of the tour bus was performed, they found 6.2 ounces of weed.
According to the Big Bend Sentinel, the case is about to be resolved in a very creative way. The Hudspeth County attorney has decided to make a plea deal with Willie.
“I’m gonna let him plead, pay a small fine and he’s gotta sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” with his guitar right there in the courtroom,” County Attorney Kit Bramblett said this week. “You bet your ass I ain’t gonna be mean to Willie Nelson.”
Bramblett oversees 10 to 12 personal use case per month. The 6.24 ounces that Willie Nelson was caught with is above the amount Bramblett can handle in his jurisdiction. Bramblett has found a way around this…
“Between me and the sheriff, we threw out enough of it or smoked enough so that there’s only three ounces, which is within my jurisdiction,” Bramblett said.
I’m not sure how much of that was a joke or not but I know that our overcrowded prisons are no laughing matter. Kentucky’s prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000.
“House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law,” said Speaker Greg Stumbo. “Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you’re on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line.”
“I’m pleased we’re making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. “With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I’m confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky.”
“Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex,” Gov. Beshear said. “In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms.”
“This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety,” said Brown.
Kentucky’s HB 463 is a start to ending prohibition and the inherent costs to society and corruption it brings. Maybe soon we can follow in the footsteps of Hudspeth County, Texas?
Maybe Gatewood Galbraith could represent Willie Nelson in Lexington and we’ll all get treated to a duo of “The Green, Green Grass of Home”. That’s one concert I wouldn’t want to miss.