Background: Florida has one of the highest prison populations in the country and, like many other states, is facing reduced budgets because of the current recession. Since launching our Florida campaign in 2009, FAMM is focusing on reforming the mandatory minimum drug trafficking statute and the 10-20-life law, which requires lengthy sentences for discharging a gun (even if the shot is fired from a legally owned gun in self-defense). FAMM is currently building a coalition of support with citizens, lawmakers, and other organizations that work in the state. Support for smarter and more cost-effective sentences is growing in Florida, and FAMM plans to add to and build on that support.
The 2013 session of the Florida Legislature has ended, but bills are currently being filed for the 2014 session. See here for a list of relevant sentencing bills.
Drug Trafficking: Florida has some of the harshest mandatory minimum drug laws in the country. Of those, the harshest are sentences for prescription drug “trafficking,” which is defined as possession of more than four grams (or seven pills) of opiate-based painkillers. These mandatory minimums require courts to impose “one size fits all” sentences on drug offenders, regardless of their role in the offense, need for treatment, or lack of a criminal record. While intended to target kingpins and other “major players” in the drug trade, mandatory minimums have instead filled Florida’s prisons with low-level drug offenders at tremendous cost to taxpayers. Mandatory minimums have failed to control drug trafficking and have failed to control drug abuse. They are expensive, inefficient, and counterproductive to public safety.
“10-20-Life”: Florida has rightly affirmed a broad right to self-defense through its “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws. Those laws, however, do not (and cannot) delineate an exhaustive list of protected acts and, as outlined in recent news reports, have been interpreted inconsistently by Florida courts. As a result, even the best-intentioned citizen could be confused about whether he will be granted immunity under SYG or prevail in a claim of self-defense.
Florida’s “10-20-Life” law exacerbates the problem. Though the law’s authors intended it to apply to “the thug who was robbing a liquor store,” 10-20-Life is being applied in self-defense cases, particularly aggravated assault cases in which a defendant either displays a firearm or fires a “warning shot” in self-defense. 10-20-Life’s severe penalties make the consequences of any mistaken or rejected claim of self-defense extraordinarily high. As a result, citizens who believed they acted in self-defense are forced to either take a plea deal, admitting to crimes they do not feel they committed, or risk a trial and a mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentence. The short-term result has been the imposition of some shockingly unjust sentences in individual cases. The long-term result is a chilling effect on two fundamental rights guaranteed to all Floridians: the right to self-defense and the right to bear arms.
The legislature should repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, which have filled Florida’s prisons, caused corrections budgets to skyrocket, and haven’t worked to control drug trafficking or abuse.
Alternatively, FAMM advocates that Florida pass a “safety valve” that would apply to first-time, nonviolent drug offenders charged with trafficking in prescription painkillers. This “safety valve,” which Florida already has for other crimes, would restore some judicial discretion and eliminate some of the most egregious injustices associated with Florida’s mandatory minimums.
FAMM also advocates reform of Florida’s prescription drug trafficking statute. Specifically, the legislature should: 1) raise the threshold weights that trigger “trafficking” in prescription drugs, 2) weigh only the illegal substance in a pill for trafficking purposes, 3) add “intent to distribute” to the trafficking statute, such that simple possession is not per se trafficking, and 4) restore the mens rea requirement to Florida’s drug statute.
The legislature should repeal “10-20-Life,” which has not contributed to lower rates of gun crimes in Florida, but has ruined the lives of good people acting in self-defense.
Alternatively, the legislature should pass a “safety valve” that allows a judge to depart from an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence under 10-20-Life if a defendant can make a prima facie case that the act was committed with defensive intent, and if the judge finds that the mandatory minimum sentence is not necessary for the protection of the public.
By a vote of 113-2, the Florida House passed a bill today aimed at reducing the number of people subjected to mandatory minimums for prescription drug offenses. The House vote follows the Florida Senate’s passage of SB 360 in late March. “This common sense bill is a step forward in addressing the demand side of… Read more »
(Miami Herald Editorial) — When crime spiked in the 1970s and outraged Americans demanded action, zero tolerance drug laws were born. The result has been a nation of crowded prisons — with taxpayers footing the bill and incarcerated black and Hispanic defendants paying the heaviest price. Today, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rarely… Read more »
Dear Florida FAMM, What an unbelievably exciting day! For the first time since 1999, the Florida legislature passed a bill that recognizes the need for judicial discretion in 10-20-Life cases. And you helped make it happen! FAMM has been telling stories of injustice under Florida’s inflexible gun sentencing laws for years, and I’ve traveled all… Read more »
About two years ago, my dad had a prostate cancer scare. After an annual exam, his doctor revealed that his PSA levels were elevated sufficiently to cause concern. (Generally, the higher a man’s PSA levels, the more likely it is that he has or will develop prostate cancer.) As you might imagine, I was pretty… Read more »