It’s well known that Florida is one of the tougher states for minimum mandatory sentencing for drug offenses. The fact is that many first-time offenders and legitimate addicts end up in prison serving lengthy sentences due to the minimum sentencing that is required for crimes categorized as trafficking. The opioid crisis and pill mills in the state have only added to the large number of people who are sent to prison every year for drug-related crimes.
Florida Inmates by the Numbers
In 2016, the Department of Corrections in the state of Florida reported that there were 99,119 inmates incarcerated in the state. Of those folks, 14.8% of them were in prison for drug offenses, and 22.5% of the new inmates who entered prison that year were convicted of drug crimes. In addition, 36,806 people were reported under probation, in community control, or under supervision due to drug convictions.
Little Hope for Drug Defendants Under Current Policy
Florida statute 893.135 defines trafficking as, “selling, purchasing, manufacturing, delivering, bringing a controlled substance into the state of Florida, or simply possessing a certain weight of a particular drug.”
For first time offenders, this could mean that any one of the scenarios combined with a small possession of a drug could mean a first-degree felony trafficking charge as opposed to a simple drug possession charge. Each of these charges carries a minimum mandatory sentence depending on the weight of the drug found.
The only hope that defendants may have is something called the law of “substantial assistance,” which says that a defendant may get a lower sentence if he or she provides information to law enforcement that may lead to more arrests through acting as a confidential source or informant, or by participating in an undercover operation to catch additional dealers.
The problem with this scenario is that oftentimes, first time offenders and true addicts do not have substantial information to give law enforcement. They are often tricked by someone else into selling for quick cash or are simply trying to get a “fix” without any real knowledge of the source of the drugs. Therefore, they are subject to the full extent of the minimum mandatory sentencing.
One lawmaker in Tampa has proposed a bill that would give judges more power and leeway to determine appropriate sentencing for drug crimes. SB 694 would allow judges to wave the minimum mandatory sentences without the prosecutor’s approval in certain situations.
The crimes that would be allowed exceptions in sentencing would have to meet the following criteria:
- Defendant is not engaged in ongoing criminal activity related to drug trafficking.
- Defendant did not use or threaten to use violence or a weapon.
- Defendant did not cause serious injury or death to another person during the crime.
If this bill passes both houses of the Florida legislature, it could mean lighter sentences for first time drug offenders and simple possession charges. This could also translate into fewer inmates in our state prison system. Some may argue that simply changing minimum mandatory sentencing could lower drug crimes and allow those who need to seek rehabilitation more options to do so outside of incarceration.
In the event that you or someone you know is arrested and charged with a drug crime, it’s imperative that you seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can assist you in understanding the charges, potential sentencing, and a defense in your specific case.
Felix Vega, News Channel 8 Legal Analyst. (2018, January 28). Harsh drug trafficking sentences may get major overhaul in Florida. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://wfla.com/2018/01/28/harsh-drug-trafficking-sentences-may-get-major-overhaul-in-florida/