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More lenient stance on drug crimes?

Court opinion shortens drug sentences

Published torsdag 2 augusti 2012 kl 11.16
"Murderers served less time than those caught with drugs"
(3:39 min)
Cocaine seized by Swedish customs. Photo: Scanpix

It's about a year now since Sweden's Supreme Court said it was time for a more nuanced approach to the way the courts looked at drug crimes. The result has been shorter sentences in a lot of cases, and the reactions have been mixed.

In the past year, courts have begun to treat drug cases differently. In 2011, the Supreme Court Justice Martin Borgeke set a precedent saying that the traditional method for sentencing drug crimes – basically according to just two factors: the type of drug and the amount – wasn't nuanced enough.

Now, one year later, Swedish Radio news reports that the Supreme Court has accepted an unusually high number of appeals in drug cases. And in many of them the final sentence has been significantly less than it would have been in the past.

Stefan Lindskog is a justice serving on the Supreme Court, and says the reason is because many of the appeals have to do with the lower courts not taking into account other circumstances.

"They were convicted according to this rigid system from before, that was just looking at drug-type and amount, and not much was known about the individual circumstances in each case," Lindskog says.

Since that ruling, the Supreme Court is looking at things like whether the accused had drugs intended for his or her own use or whether he or she was thinking about selling them. And in that case, towards adults or children?

The result has often been shorter sentences, sometimes half of what they would have been before. And the longer sentences are now being reserved for criminals higher up on the drug ladder.

Jackie Nylander has a criminal past that lasted for some 27 years. But today, he sits on the Stockholm city council, representing the Left party. He is positive to the Court's stance on drug crimes now.

"Before now, it was a catastrophe. Murderers, rapists and pedophiles were serving less time than people who were caught in possession of drugs," he says.

Punishment for drug crimes has long been a sensitive political issue.

Swedish Radio news sought a comment from the Justice minister, Beatrice Ask, of the conservative moderates. She refused to comment on the Supreme Court's new attitude.

Caroline Szyber, who's the spokesperson on legal matters for the Christian Democrats, says the change came hastily, and that they were watching the developments closely, especially how it was being interpreted in the lower courts around the country.

The Social Democrats and the Greens did not want to comment on the development either.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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