Enhancements to criminal charges

Earlier this month, we shared a story with you about how Georgia is poised to reconsider some of its harsh criminal sentencing policies. As that process moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether policymakers also address various enhancements that can be tacked onto drug charges.

While sentences for drug possession and possession with intent to distribute can be severe all on their own, many criminal suspects also face additional charges for a wide variety circumstances. These enhancements can exponentially increase the potential sentence in a case.

Recently, a Georgia man arrested for felony possession of marijuana also faced a slew of secondary charges. He was also charged with possession of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a housing project, possession within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of a knife or firearm while attempting to commit a crime, and possession of a weapon in a school safety zone.

This laundry list of charges stems from a single arrest in which the police claim to have discovered marijuana under the driver’s seat of the suspect’s car, and a weapon in a backpack that was in his car.

It is likely an easy and politically successful decision for legislators to enact these types of enhancements. But in practice, the enhancements are often used as nothing more than bargaining chips by prosecutors to attempt to pressure suspects into a plea deal. Prosecutors’ ability to threaten an extreme sentence too often allows them to secure a conviction without ever even having to prove the primary underlying charge.

Source: Rome News Tribune, “Report: Atlanta man found with large amount of marijuana, pistol near Rome probation office,” Kevin Myrick, Jan. 11, 2012