Sentencing Issues in Florida Prescription Drug Trafficking Cases

Drug trafficking cases are treated very seriously in Florida and often come with the possibility of significant prison time and fines. That includes mandatory minimum sentences that force judges to send offenders to prison for a certain amount of time. The punishments in drug cases vary, however, based on the type and quantity of the drug involved.The Florida legislature occasionally updates criminal laws to reflect a better understanding of the dangers posed by different drugs. In 2014, for example, lawmakers updated criminal laws to treat two prescription painkillers – hydrocodone and hydromorphone – differently for drug trafficking purposes. As a recent decision out of the state’s First District Court of Appeals makes clear, those updates don’t apply to someone convicted before the law changed.

A defendant was charged with trafficking in hydrocodone in 2012. The prescription drug is a powerful painkiller that’s addictive and has been the source of a significant number of overdoses. The defendant was allegedly holding between 14 and 28 grams of the drug at the time. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that he was sentenced under the wrong section of the Florida law on trafficking in prescription drugs. The defendant said he was sentenced under the section that bans trafficking in hydromorphone. That’s also an opioid-based pain reliever, but it’s a stronger drug that is even more prone to addition than hydrocodone. At the time that he challenged the sentence in 2014, hydrocodone trafficking was subject to a mandatory minimum three years behind bars, while hydromorphone came with a mandatory minimum 15 years in prison.

Still, the First District rejected the defendant’s appeal. The court explained that the state legislature changed the law in 2014 to separate hydrocodone and hydromorphone. Before that time, trafficking in either drug was subject to the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. Since the defendant was charged with the crime in 2012, the court said he was subject to the stiffer penalty under the previous version of the law.

“The Florida Constitution provides that repeal or amendment of a criminal statute shall not affect prosecution or punishment for any crime previously committed,” the court explained. “The purpose of this ‘Savings Clause’ is to require the statute in effect at the time of the crime to govern the sentence an offender receives for the commission of that crime.”

As a result, the court said the 2014 amendment to the drug law didn’t apply to the defendant’s case. The court affirmed his conviction and sentence.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug or other crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa prescription drug trafficking lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Florida Criminal Cases

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