FAMM Policy Proposals for Florida

DRUG TRAFFICKING:

The Problem:

Florida has some of the most severe mandatory minimum drug laws in the country. Of those, the harshest are sentences for prescription drug “trafficking,” which is defined (in part) as possession of more than a certain amount of opiate-based painkillers. (See here for the current trafficking thresholds and mandatory minimum sentences for painkiller trafficking.) 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.

The Solutions:

  1. The legislature should repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, which have filled Florida’s prisons, caused corrections budgets to skyrocket, and have not deterred drug trafficking or abuse.
  2. Alternatively, the legislature should reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking across the board. Current sentences for drug trafficking are unnecessarily harsh and punitive, and could be reduced significantly without negatively impacting public safety.
  3. The legislature should eliminate mandatory minimums for all first-time nonviolent drug offenders. 
  4. Florida should pass a “safety valve” for nonviolent, non-sex offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. This “safety valve,” which Florida already has for other crimes, would restore some judicial discretion and eliminate many of the most egregious injustices associated with Florida’s mandatory minimum drug laws. This model safety valve by the American Legislative Exchange Council would be an excellent reform to current Florida law.
  5. FAMM advocates significantly broader reform of Florida’s prescription drug trafficking statute. Specifically, the legislature should:
  • Raise the threshold weights that trigger “trafficking” in illegal prescription drugs;
  • Weigh only the illegal substance in painkillers for trafficking purposes;
  • Add “intent to distribute” to the trafficking statute, such that simple possession is not per se trafficking;
  • Restore the mens rea requirement to Florida’s drug statute; and
  • Allow offenders currently serving prison sentences for painkiller “trafficking” to petition for resentencing under current law.

UPDATE: In 2014, the Florida legislature passed and Governor Scott signed SB 360 by Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Katie Edwards. SB 360 raised the trafficking threshold weights for prescription painkillers and reformed mandatory minimum sentences for prescription painkiller trafficking! Click here for more information on this reform!

10-20-LIFE:

The Problem: 

Florida has 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 have been interpreted inconsistently by Florida courts. As a result, even the best-intentioned citizen could be confused about whether he will 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 and aggravated battery cases in which a defendant either displays or fires a gun 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 Solutions:

  1. The legislature should repeal “10-20-Life,” which has not reduced the rate of gun crimes in Florida.
  2. The legislature should add a self-defense safety valve for all 10-20-Life felonies.
  3. The legislature should add a safety valve for possession of a firearm by a felon, and burglary of a conveyance, both nonviolent crimes that can and should be (and already are!) distinguished from the violent crimes under 10-20-Life.
  4. The legislature should clarify that sentences for multiple counts under 10-20-Life can be served concurrently, and do not have to be served consecutively.

UPDATE: In 2014 the Florida legislature passed and Governor Scott signed CS/HB 89, the “Threatened Use of Force Act,” sponsored by Representative Neil Combee and Senator Greg Evers. Among other reforms, HB 89 established a safety valve for self-defense-related aggravated assault cases! Click here for more information on this critical sentencing reform!

“DRUG-FREE ZONES”:

The Problem:

Florida’s so-called “Drug-Free Zone” laws increase the severity of penalties for certain drug offenses when those offenses are committed within 1,000 feet of certain places (e.g., K-12 schools). These laws are expensive, arbitrary, unnecessary, unfair, and ineffective. There is no evidence these laws have deterred drug activity, but there is overwhelming evidence that their enforcement has had an overwhelmingly disproportionate negative impact on minority communities around Florida. For more information on Florida’s “drug-free zone” laws, see this 2012 Florida Senate report.

The Solutions:

  1. The legislature should repeal “Drug-Free Zones.”
  2. Alternatively, the legislature should reduce drug-free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet.
  3. The legislature should pass a “safety valve” that allows judicial discretion in sentencing for drug-free zone offenses that carry mandatory minimums.

UNINFORMED JURIES: 

The Problem:

Juries in Florida are prohibited from knowing if a defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction. As a result, many jurors believe a defendant will receive probation or a light sentence when in reality even nonviolent and first-time offenders could be sentenced to 15, 20, or 25 years in prison.

The Solutions:

  1. The legislature should amend Florida’s evidence code to allow juries to be made aware of any applicable mandatory minimum before deliberations.
  2. The legislature should allow jurors to decide, after conviction, whether a mandatory minimum should apply in the instant case.

For more information on Florida’s mandatory minimum laws, or FAMM’s proposed solutions, please contact FAMM’s State Policy Director, Greg Newburn, by email at gnewburn@famm.org, or by phone at 352.682.2542.