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Florida Moves to Reform History of Harsh Sentencing

Florida's legacy of harsh criminal sentencing is under the microscope lately as the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee concluded recently that too much state taxpayer money is being spent on people who have committed minor criminal offenses. The committee voted unanimously for SB 290, which ends minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes. Liberal and conservative advocates have been pushing to reform Florida's historically harsh mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes for some time now, as these types of statutes have bogged down the judicial system and crowded prisons around the state.

Bill to End Minimum Mandatory Sentences for Non-Violent Crimes

This "prison diversion bill" as it is being referred to, will allow judges to depart from the 118 minimum mandatory sentences, excluding sentences for drug traffickers, and thus will save the state millions in avoided costs due to hosting fewer non-violent minor criminals in the state prison system. In addition to the minimum mandatory sentencing reforms, the Florida Sentencing Commission will also be restored. However, the scope of the commission will be limited compared to when it originally existed from 1982-1997. The restoration scope includes determining the severity ranking that adds points to an offender's record based on certain offenses. It is important to note that violent criminals are not eligible for any leniency from the courts based on these reforms.

Additional Criminal Justice Reform Bills Passed

The committee unanimously passed three additional bills with regards to the criminal justice system. These bills include additional reforms such as requiring police to administer line-ups blindly, warning witnesses that suspects may or may not be present; requiring police recordings of all interrogations of felony suspects to prevent coerced confessions; and a change to state law that allows compensation for those wrongly incarcerated except in cases when a violent crime was committed in the past. Nationally, 32 states have statutes that give compensation to those who have been wrongly incarcerated. However, Florida has historically operated under a "clean hands" policy, which has denied compensation for the wrongly convicted with any conviction in the past. The current amendment to this law only excludes from compensation those with a previous violent conviction.

Criminal law and sentencing requirements in the state can change in situations like this when there is a push for reform. If you are arrested and accused of a crime, it's important to contact a criminal attorney immediately. Your attorney will be able to help you understand your rights, and navigate the criminal system and the current statutes that are in place with regards to the severity of the crime you are accused of committing.

Reference:

Bureau, M. E. (n.d.). In major Tallahassee reversal, mandatory sentences called a waste of taxpayer money. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article134127879.html

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