April 25, 2013
New law restores judicial discretion to depart from mandatory minimums in limited circumstances
Following remarks at the Marietta Kiwanis Club, Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law a second round of criminal justice reforms to implement “smart on crime” policies that save tax dollars and promote public safety. HB 349, which contains recommendations from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, is follow-up legislation to HB 1176, the criminal justice reform act of 2012.
“HB 349 is another step in the right direction in making Georgia smarter on crime,” said Deal. “Public safety will be improved by giving prosecutors leverage in certain cases and by ensuring that our prison resources are reserved for the ‘kingpins’ while the ‘mules’ are given a chance at reform.”
The bill restores judicial discretion by allowing a departure from mandatory minimum sentences in some very limited circumstances. As a result, judges now have the option to make more appropriate decisions in drug-related cases where the defendant is not the ringleader of the criminal enterprise, or in other cases where the prosecution, defense attorney and judge agree.
In addition, the legislation creates the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Commission. The commission will conduct periodic comprehensive reviews of the juvenile justice system and criminal justice system to help ensure that they are effective and efficient in fulfilling their purposes.
The bill also contains provisions to keep communities safer by breaking the cycle of recidivism. Limited driving permits will now be available for issue to defendants and participants in a drug court or mental health court program, allowing them to get to school or work as long as they meet the program’s requirements. The legislation also permits individuals who have earned a HOPE GED voucher while incarcerated to use it within two years of release.