New Law Proposal Would Give Judges More Discretion in Sentencing

The Florida Legislature is considering a bill brought forth by Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg which seeks to provide judges more discretion when issuing a sentence for drug trafficking. As of today, anyone caught trafficking drugs in Florida faces a minimum sentence of three years imprisonment. Whether the defendant is a regular trafficker or an addict looking for some extra cash makes no difference; currently, judges cannot consider the unique facts of the case when issuing a sentence for drug trafficking. Whether they think the mandatory minimum penalty is appropriate or not for the particular case, they must issue it.

Mandatory minimum sentences are minimum prison terms that judges must issue for certain crimes. In many cases, judges consider the sentence too harsh for the crime at hand. Judges have actively protested mandatory minimums around the country because it bars them from using their insight to determine an appropriate sentence. Most often, these sentences are reserved for drug offenses. In Florida, SB 694 would allow judges to stray from severe mandatory minimum sentences in drug trafficking cases if the defendant meets certain criteria:

  • The defendant was not part of a continuing criminal organization
  • The defendant did not cause death or bodily harm
  • The defendant did not use a weapon
  • The defendant did not threaten violence

Mr. Brandes assured his colleagues that the measure, dubbed “the escape valve,” would be used rarely since most drug trafficking cases result in plea bargains. He believes that, ultimately, allowing judges to use discretion can lower the costs of incarceration and mitigate the odds that a person will be sentenced to excessively harsh penalties, as in the case of a Broward County woman who was sentenced to 25 years for selling 35 oxycodone pills — her very first offense.

Drawbacks of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Research has shown that one-size-fits-all sentencing exhausts increasingly tight prison budgets. Since we began implementing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, the US prison population has spiked. We are now spending $80 billion a year on incarceration, mostly for individuals charged with nonviolent drug crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences also tear families apart. Two-thirds of families in the US with at least one incarcerated member cannot fulfill their basic needs. One in five families cannot afford housing.

Mandatory minimum sentences took shape in the 1980s and 1990s during the “tough on crime” years. Today, crime is at its lowest rate ever, yet judges must continue to issue these sentences, often against their will. If you were caught and charged for a drug offense in Central Florida, you need robust representation. Criminal defense lawyers with The Umansky Law Firm have years of experience fighting drug charges in Orlando and throughout Central Florida. Call 407-228-3838, chat with us live 24/7, or email us for a free consultation.