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Lower drug crime punishment may have unintended effect

Should you be denied legal representation simply because you are poor? It seems that legislators in North Carolina are working toward that outcome through their indirect influence in the way that justice is administered. Individuals in the state who are facing drug charges may be having their rights systematically dismantled in the name of saving money and lowering punishment for those found in possession. Although that may sound like a good thing - few would oppose less jail time for minor offenders - this system often leaves criminal defendants without the legal representation they desperately need.

In many cases, minor drug crimes no longer involve the threat of jail. As a result, fewer criminal defendants are seeking the assistance of a qualified criminal defense attorney because they do not think their drug crimes will have significant future effects. Even though a minor drug charge may not always land a defendant in jail, it can have major implications for that individual's future.

Pleading guilty to drug crimes in North Carolina can lead to a variety of negative effects. Not only are those with criminal histories often excluded from hiring opportunities - they can also be barred from receiving food stamps, obtaining student loans and even earning a professional license. Further, entering a guilty plea to a misdemeanor drug crime - even one that will not involve jail time - can increase sentences for future offenses.

Statistics show that many misdemeanor drug offenders are eligible for free or reduced-cost legal counsel, but few take advantage of that service. Further, about 90 percent of those individuals plead guilty to the charges they face. A guilty plea is appropriate in some situations, but it can have long-term ramifications; most defendants do not understand those legal subtleties. Criminal defendants who are facing even minor drug crimes should consult a qualified North Carolina attorney, who can help them learn more about their legal rights and long-term options.

Source: Slate.com, "Wait, Are You Sure You Want to Plead Guilty?" Spencer Woodman, Dec. 23, 2013

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