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New ruling changes the way Ohio treats cocaine crimes

Ohio, like many other states, treats drug crimes involving cocaine more seriously than they do crimes for "soft" drugs like marijuana. Additionally, until recently, the penalty you faced for a cocaine-related crime depended largely on the amount of the drug that you either possessed or sold, measured by weight alone.

The actual purity of the drugs in your possession wasn't something that was taken into consideration.

That meant that someone with 1,000-gram mixture of cocaine that was 90 percent baking powder and only 10 percent cocaine faced the same mandatory maximum prison term that someone else would face for having 1,000 grams of pure cocaine.

That changed in December of 2016. In a case that was closely watched by law enforcement officers throughout the state, Ohio's Supreme Court said that prosecutors seeking enhanced penalties must prove the weight of the actual cocaine involved in the bust, not the fillers used to "cut," or dilute, its purity before sale.

Prosecutors had argued that Ohio's General Assembly intended to include fillers as part of the drug compound when they wrote the laws on enhanced penalties, but the majority of the judges on the case focused on how cocaine was actually defined in the law.

This is good news for the subject of the lawsuit, an Ohio prisoner who was sentenced to 11 years in prison based on the weight of the mostly fake cocaine he'd purchased from an undercover informant. His sentence should now be reduced to only one year. It's also good news for others who are currently in jail or facing upcoming trials for cocaine-related crimes.

Advocates for defendants say that enhanced penalties for cocaine-related crimes are partly responsible for a disproportionate number of minorities serving draconian sentences. While the court's decision was far from unanimous, it stands to change the nature of how cocaine-related crimes are tried. Prosecutors will have to rely on lab testing in order to get enhanced sentences, not a scale.

If you're facing cocaine-related drug charges, talk to your attorney about what the recent ruling means for your case. Similarly, anyone currently serving time on an enhanced sentence due to the weight of the cocaine found in their possession should consider consulting an attorney about an appeal.

Source: FindLaw, "Ohio Cocaine Laws," accessed Jan. 19, 2017

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