By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, has introduced a bill in the state Senate that would mandate five-year minimum sentences for repeat drug trafficking offenders.
The bill could be heard on the Senate floor in the next couple of weeks, he said.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said he has invested more than a year researching the bill, working with Harden to structure it so legislators will find it palatable and allow its passage into law.
Statewide uniformity is needed because there is a great deal of fluctuation in sentences for trafficking charges, Chandler.
“The intent of this legislation is purely punitive,” he said. “It sends a clear message that (dealer’s) actions will not be tolerated, and they will spend time in prison. Mandatory sentencing eliminates the revolving door theory that many criminals have come to know.”
There is support in the Public Affairs Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, two stops the bill must make before it goes to the Senate floor, Harden said.
Harden introduced a similar bill geared toward methamphetamine manufacturers in the 47th Legislature. It died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Harden said he and Chandler have tweaked the bill for its second run.
Lawmakers are reluctant to diminish judicial authority, Harden said, a continued obstacle to the bill.
Legislators need to understand that the bill is not an attack on judges for lenient sentencing, but a message to offenders, he explained.
“I think this is a situation where public policy may require stringent action like we’re proposing,” Harden said.
“This is not a slam against the judges. This takes into consideration the whole judicial process. We simply want to say we’re very serious about locking people up that are (dealing drugs). You get caught and get found guilty — there aren’t any deals, you’re going away.”