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Another judge finds florida drug laws unconstitutional

October 18, 2011

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While a Miami circuit court judge first ruled that the Florida drug laws unconstitutional, a second judge from Manatee County has followed suit and dismissed felony drug charges levied against 42 defendants. Miami criminal lawyers and defense attorneys across the state have been filing motions to dismiss on behalf of their clients charged with drug offenses. Although hundreds of the motions have been filed, very few have been granted. Many circuit judges have motions pending in their courts, but have declined to rule on them at this point. While numerous circuit court judges have handed down rulings, the final decision as to the constitutionality of the state will be determined by the Florida District Courts of Appeal and will ultimately be determined by the Florida Supreme Court as a matter of great public importance.

The turmoil regarding the Florida drug laws was initially caused by a Middle District of Florida judge. The Middle District is a federal court, which begs the question, why are some state court judges following the precedent set forth by a court with no jurisdiction. Typically, federal courts have no jurisdiction of over state court judges, but rulings can be used as guidance by state court judges regarding their cases. The federal court judge decided back on July 27, 2001, that the Florida drug laws violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. The basis for the ruling was that the Florida Statutes regarding drug offenses do not have a knowledge requirement. Generally, all crimes in Florida and across the United States require criminal intent. Florida is the only state where criminal intent is not a prerequisite to being charged with certain drug offenses.

The problem with the current state of the drug laws is that an individual can be charged and convicted of a drug offense despite the fact that the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant had the intent to possess or sell an illegal substance. The Florida Statutes specifically do not require that the prosecution prove knowledge that the presence of the illegal substance. Without the element of intent, a person can be charged even if he or she innocently, accidently, unintentionally or mistakenly possessed an illegal substance. The burden is placed on the defendant that he or she did not have knowledge of the presence of the substance. Shifting the burden to the defense goes against the general principles of the constitution which squarely places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove its case.

The penalties for violating Florida's drug laws are very serious. Simple drug possession such as cocaine or ecstasy possession are third degree felonies punishable up to 5 years in prison. Sale or possession with intent to sell an illegal substance is a second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison. Drug trafficking is a first degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison and can be a life felony if a firearm was used in the commission of the offense. There are other serious ramifications for being convicted of a drug offense such as a permanent criminal record or even a driver's license suspension. Only until the appellate courts rule on this issue will we know whether or not the laws will be upheld. As a side note, over 100,000 individuals have been convicted of what could be determined to be an unconstitutional law.

Tampa Bay Alleged Drug Offenders Challenging Florida Drug Sentences After Federal Judge Ruling,, October 18, 2011.
Categories: Drug Offenses
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