Recent Kentucky Legislation Stiffens Penalties for Heroin Traffickers
In recent years, societal attitudes and laws in some states have been trending toward more leniency toward recreational drug use. Kentucky seems to be going in the opposite direction. In 2017, Governor Matt Bevin signed House Bill 333, a new law that could push low-level heroin dealers into longer prison sentences and lead to overcrowding of the Commonwealth’s prisons. Under the new law, individuals convicted of trafficking any amount of heroin can now be charged with a Class C felony.
The legislation was primarily aimed at addressing the growing opioid crisis. The law limits the amounts of opioid painkillers physicians are allowed to prescribe at one time. It also increases the sentences for those who traffic fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. But a last-minute addition to the bill imposed stiffer penalties on those who traffic (or even share) any amount of heroin.
Heroin Laws in Kentucky
The Commonwealth has harsh penalties for possession, sale, or trafficking of heroin:
- Possession of heroin is a Class D felony for a first offense, and a Class C felony for subsequent offenses
- The sale of heroin is a Class C felony for a first offense, and a Class B felony for a subsequent offense
- Trafficking heroin is a Class C felony for a first offense, a Class B felony for a subsequent offense, and enhanced penalties if trafficking occurs within 1000 yards of a school
What Changed Under the New Law?
Prior to the 2017 legislation, Kentucky law included a so-called “peddler distinction”, in which an individual who shared less than two grams of heroin would be charged with a Class D felony for a first offense. The new law did away with this distinction, subjecting even the lowest-level offenders to a Class C felony charge.
This change could have negative unintended consequences, because not only does it lengthen potential prison sentences for low-level offenders, it also forces them to serve a higher percentage of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
A Class D felony carries with it a one to five-year sentence, and you can be eligible to be released on parole after serving just 20% of that sentence. For example, if you were sentenced to two years for a Class D felony heroin charge, you could be out on parole in about five months, give or take. Those charged with a Class D felony may also be eligible for a pre-trial diversion, which allows them to avoid jail time and have the offense expunged from their criminal record if the diversion is successfully completed.
A Class C felony carries a five to 10-year sentence, and those convicted cannot be released on probation, shock probation, parole, conditional discharge, or any other form of early release until they have served at least 50% of their sentence. This means that, even if you receive the minimum five-year sentence, you would have to serve at least 30 months in prison before becoming eligible for parole. And unfortunately, there is no pretrial diversion available for a Class C felony, and it cannot be expunged from your criminal record under any circumstances.
After the law was passed, the Lexington Herald reported that the Kentucky prison population is projected to increase 19% in the next decade, costing the Commonwealth an additional $600 million. Changes made by the new law account for roughly 40% of the projected prison population increase.
The financial cost is only part of the equation, however. Time in prison also increases the likelihood that an individual will re-offend. The Kentucky recidivism rate is currently 41% within just two years after release. People who commit non-violent crimes related to substance abuse need treatment, not prison. Hopefully, the Commonwealth will consider repealing the portion of the new law dealing with low-level heroin offenders and re-focus their efforts on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
Charged with Heroin Trafficking? Contact an Experienced Kentucky Criminal Defense Lawyer
Drug trafficking is a serious offense in Kentucky, and those convicted can face long prison sentences before becoming eligible for parole or another form of early release. Being charged with a crime does not mean you will be convicted, however. With the right defense strategy, it may be possible to have the charges reduced or dismissed altogether.
Attorney Ron Aslam has several years of experience successfully defending individuals charged with heroin trafficking and all other types of criminal offenses in Kentucky. Attorney Aslam understands what is at stake when you are charged with a crime, and he works closely with his clients to thoroughly assess their case and employ the most effective defense strategy to mitigate the circumstances as much as possible.
To schedule a consultation with Attorney Ron Aslam, call our office today at (502) 581-1676. You may also send a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.