BOISE — Logan Joyce has a job. He’s started working out again and is looking forward to mountain biking season. On Friday, he will have been sober for a year.
A month from now, he will report to court in his native Pocatello to be sentenced to at least seven years in prison.
Joyce, now 24, became addicted to heroin as a younger man while working as a wildland firefighter and ended up with a four-to-five-gram-a-day habit. He was caught with enough heroin to trigger Idaho’s mandatory minimums under the state’s trafficking statute, which start to kick in at a three-year minimum for two grams and go up from there.
“I personally believe I’m not a bad person,” Joyce told the House Judiciary and Rules Committee Wednesday afternoon. “I’m an addict that made a very, very poor choice. I’ve turned my life around and would never go back to the same detrimental lifestyle I was living. I wasn’t happy.”
Paul Jagosh, the lobbyist for the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police, views the issue through a different lens. He asked the committee what they would tell a 3-year-old child whose drug-addicted parents beat or neglect them.
“Drug dealers’ success is built on the misery of addicts,” he said. “And they exploit that addiction.”
Jagosh said addicts need treatment, but that there is value in having laws that carry an automatically harsh sentence for possessing certain amounts of drugs since they target drug dealers, who he called “the lowest of the low.” Even if the sentences don’t work as a deterrent, Jagosh said, people who do so much damage to communities should be punished harshly.
“How many lives have been ruined by drug dealers … and now we want to go easy on them?” he asked the committee.
The committee held a four-hour informational hearing Wednesday on a bill brought by Reps. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, to abolish the state’s mandatory minimums for drug trafficking, hearing testimony from people on all sides of the issue, including police who want to see the laws stay in place, defense lawyers who want them repealed, the parents of heroin addicts who are facing stiff sentences under the laws, and a couple of the people who were there in 1992 when Idaho first passed the minimums.
The bill will not get a vote this year. Committee Chairman Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said he wanted the committee to hear people’s concerns and opinions and possibly come back next year with a bill that could address some of those concenrs.
“We got a lot of good ideas and let’s see where the discussion goes,” he said.
Some people told stories about young people who were convinced by others to transport large amounts of drugs unknowingly, or about addicts with serious heroin habits who get caught up in the laws that were meant to target big dealers.
Some heroin addicts build up high enough tolerances to end up daily users of amounts that can trigger mandatory minimum sentences. Boise lawyer Jeff Brownson talked about a client who started taking painkillers after a football injury and ended up addicted to heroin. He was arrested with 7.5 grams after a traffic stop.
“This young man was looking at 10 years of his life for having a three-day supply of the drug he was addicted to,” Brownson said.
Police testified that they’ve caught drug dealers on wiretaps talking about how they avoid Idaho because of its harsh laws. Boise Detective Brian Holland, who works in the city’s Gang Unit, said gangs study police tactics and the law, and that repealing mandatory minimums would embolden them.
“I think pulling back mandatory minimums would reverberate in the gang community,” he said.
Jeff Black is a private citizen now but was in drug enforcement and helped to write the laws 25 years ago. He said part of the purpose was to bring some consistency to sentencing. Before then, he said, sentences for drugs could vary wildly based on what county you were in or who your father was.
Black said the laws may need to be updated, especially the states stiff heroin laws. But he urged the committee not to get rid of the laws entirely, saying the Legislature should play a role in establishing sentencing guidelines.
“Let’s not just throw everything out to fix the problem,” he said.