Proposed Florida Law Gives Judges More Discretion in Sentencing Drug Offenders

In what is described as an emerging trend by the Tampa Bay Times, lawmakers are starting to either repeal mandatory minimum sentences or pass “safety valve” laws. The latter provides judges with more discretion in imposing a variety of punishments in minor drug cases, if certain conditions are met. These new laws could change the way that courts deal with Florida drug crimes, or at least change the length of jail time imposed at sentencing.

The proposed law is a Senate bill brought forth by a pair of Florida legislators. SB 694 permits a court to sentence a drug offender to a sentence less than a mandatory minimum sentence if the following conditions are met:  (i) the person did not engage in a criminal enterprise as defined in Florida Statutes Section 893.20(1) (a continuing criminal enterprise); (ii) the person did not use or threaten violence or use a weapon during the commission of the crime; and (iii) the person did not cause a death or serious bodily injury.

The Florida House of Representatives version is very similar to the one proposed in the Senate but with a few key differences. The court is required to at least impose a sentence of imprisonment that is “no less than one-third of the sentence prescribed” by the mandatory minimum sentencing statute. Separately, the drug offender cannot have certain prior convictions, including a crime of violence as defined in Florida Statutes Section 784.046(1)(a).

These more lenient proposed drug laws are likely results of disproportionate jail sentences for non-violent drug offenders. For instance, a middle-aged woman in Florida sold prescription pills to a police informant. Even though she did not have any prior arrests, she was sentenced to almost three decades in prison. Another case involved a middle-aged man who was caught with a handful of a family member’s hydrocodone pills. He was charged and eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.

These sentences were all results of Florida mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drugs. If the weight of the illegal substance is beyond a statutorily defined weight, and the State obtains a drug trafficking conviction, the judge is stripped of discretion and has to impose the statutorily defined sentencing guidelines. News sources, however, note that since the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines have been imposed, illegal drug use has skyrocketed in Florida, so these rules are clearly not effective.

It’s absolutely essential to choose the right lawyer if you or a loved one is trying to defend against drug charges. Will Hanlon has an impressive record of expertly handling drug crime cases in Tampa. It’s not the time to take any unnecessary risks with your future. If you would like to discuss your case or charges against you, call Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Rules that Liquid By-Product Counts in Meth Trafficking Case, Tampa Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 31, 2017

Florida Appeals Court Affirms Aggravated Battery Conviction but Overturns Conspiracy to Deliver Cannabis Conviction, Tampa Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 10, 2017