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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 352.682.2542.