Florida’s Drug Trafficking Reform Bills

Post Date: March 7, 2013

For the third legislative session in a row, FAMM has led the effort to reform Florida’s drug “trafficking” sentencing laws, which are the harshest in the nation by a large margin. We have approached the issue in several ways, from advocating legislation that would repeal drug trafficking mandatory minimums, to legislation that would increase the thresholds for “trafficking” thus reducing the number of offenders subjected to mandatory minimums. This year, our primary efforts with respect to drug sentencing are being directed at supporting HB 159 by Representative Katie Edwards and its companion bill, SB 420 by Senator Maria Sachs.(HB 159 and SB 420 are companion bills and are, for all practical purposes, substantively identical. As such I’ll refer to them collectively as “the bill.”) You can see the House bill here, and the Senate bill here. You can also see a detailed staff analysis of the Senate bill here.

The bill does not repeal any mandatory minimums or directly reduce the sentences associated with drug trafficking crimes. Rather, the bill leaves the sentences as they are, but provides that in prescription drug trafficking cases, the state attorney, defendant, or counsel representing the defendant may move the sentencing court to depart from the mandatory minimum. The bill allows the court to grant that motion – in other words, allows the court to depart from the mandatory minimum – if all of certain criteria are met. Click here to read FAMM’s fact sheet on the bills.

Specifically, the court may use the “safety valve” and depart from the mandatory minimum if the defendant in the case:

  • Did not use, attempt to use, or threaten to us physical force against another person;
  • Did not cause serious bodily injury to another person or the disfigurement or death of another person;
  • Was not armed with, did not threaten to use or display, and did not represent by word or conduct that he or she possessed a firearm, deadly weapon, or dangerous instrument;
  • Has not previously been convicted of a felony; and
  • Has not previously invoked this sentencing departure provision. 

As you can tell, the eligibility requirements for the safety valve are strict and would apply only to first-time, nonviolent drug offenders who are convicted of “trafficking” in prescription painkillers. However, while this reform is not nearly as broad as FAMM would like, it is a tremendously big step in the right direction and, if passed, will help move Florida in the right direction.

The bill is not retroactive, and it does not affect gain time or allow for early release of any offender currently incarcerated or currently waiting to be tried for an alleged crime or sentenced for a crime already committed. It applies only to defendants whose crimes are committed after July 1, 2013.

SB 420 has already passed its first committee (you can watch the hearing online here), and HB 159 should be heard soon. If you have any questions about the bill, please feel to call me at 352.682.2542 or email me at gnewburn@famm.org.

Click here to read FAMM’s fact sheet on the bills.