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Felonies: The reforms offered by the First Step Act

By signing the First Step Act into law recently, President Trump brought about the first step in the reform of criminal justice. He did this by altering the guidelines for federal sentences. While Michigan and other states will likely take additional steps, judges will have leeway that they did not previously have when it comes to sentencing convicted criminals, regardless of the severity of the felonies committed.

One of the most significant reforms involves the federal "three strikes" rule that brought mandated life sentences for those who were convicted three or more times for drug trafficking or serious violent felonies. No longer will they be sentenced to life in prison, but 25 years instead. The mandated minimum sentence for serious drug felonies will be 15 years and no longer 20 years. In the past, 25 years were automatically added to the sentence of someone who is convicted for a second or consecutive time for being armed during violent or trafficking crimes; however, in the future, it will only apply for those with prior convictions for similar offenses. None of these will be retroactive.

Along with the ability of federal judges to use discretion with guidelines for minimum sentencing of non-violent drug offenders without criminal backgrounds, the reforms will extend to include felons whose criminal histories are limited. The third reform involves good behavior that could earn convicts good time credits they can use to knock days off their sentences. It further aims to provide prisoners with access to education, rehabilitative services and training opportunities. These programs might also reduce recidivism, and this section of the new law would be retroactive.

Anyone in Michigan who is charged with felonies might have questions about the details of the First Step Act. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to provide answers. In the event of a conviction, the attorney will protect the rights of the client and work to ensure that the defendant receives the advantages to which the reforms entitles him or her.

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