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.
After the Florida House Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve HB 89 last week, an unfortunate – and unfortunately predictable – response from the few opponents of that bill emerged. Their new talking point? “Florida is trying to expand Stand Your Ground.” We saw this recently over at Think Progress (which for some reason still erroneously… Read more »
Assume 100 “Warning Shot” cases, i.e., cases in which a person discharges a weapon in what that person alleges was either self-defense or defense of a third party. Given what we know about how self-defense cases work in Florida, what are the plausible outcomes for those 100 cases? The Tampa Bay Times analyzed more than… Read more »
(Outside the Beltway) – The criminal jury trial is a vital check against prosecutorial excesses, police misconduct, and arbitrary state power. But over the last three decades, criminal justice policy has transferred enormous amounts of power to prosecutors and away from juries and judges. Judges once had wide discretion in weighing the facts and circumstances of… Read more »
Thank you Florida FAMM! We did it! On Wednesday, both SB 360 and SB 448 passed UNANIMOUSLY out of the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Thanks to everyone who emailed the members of that committee and urged them to vote yes on these important bills. The momentum is on our side, but we have a lot… Read more »