A new Florida bill aimed at lightening penalties for possessing small quantities of drugs and getting rid of some mandatory minimums has unanimously passed a Senate committee. If the bill survives a full vote by the Florida Senate, it will drastically change the way the justice system deals with drug offenses in Florida.
The bill would get rid of mandatory minimum sentences for all but the most severe drug offenses, and judges would enjoy more discretion when sentencing offenders. The most severe drug offenses would still carry a 25-year mandatory minimum, and the reduced sentences would not apply to those with forcible felony convictions or those that used violence or the threat of violence in the commission of a drug crime.
Although proponents admit that the way the justice system currently deals with drug offenses is far from perfect, the bill is not really about correcting injustice; that is more of a fortunate byproduct. More than anything, it’s about saving money. Those convicted of simple possession would receive sentences of no more than 12 months, which would keep them in county jails and out of prison. A Republican Senator who signed off on the bill estimated that the new enforcement practices would save the Department of Corrections about $50 million annually.
The bill does not call for retroactive enforcement, so those already serving time under the current drug laws will be unaffected. Only an estimated 5% of those currently incarcerated would have benefited from a retroactive provision.
Make no mistake, anyone charged with drug offenses in Florida is still facing serious consequences. If someone is facing charges for a drug offense in Florida, he or she should consult an attorney with experience in criminal cases. A good criminal defense attorney can make the process much smoother and help people put their drug charges behind them as quickly and painlessly as possible.