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Constitutionality of state drug laws going to supreme court

November 21, 2011

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After months of legal arguments and thousands of motions to dismiss being filed by defense counsel, the question as to the constitutionality of the state's drug laws will finally come to a head. According to court records, thousands of defendant's convicted of or charged with drug offenses could be exonerated across the State. Every Miami criminal lawyer is anxiously waiting for word to come down from the State of Florida's highest court. While only two judges across the state have granted motions on cases involving drug crimes, some the appellate courts have ruled on the reading of the law while others have sent the cases to the Supreme Court as a matter of great public importance.

On September 14, 2011, a Manatee County Circuit Court Judge dismissed charges against 42 defendants involved in 46 cases. Manatee County falls within the Second District Court of Appeal. Two weeks after the Manatee County ruling, a three judge panel sitting on the court of appeal sent the matter to the Florida Supreme Court for a decision. Around the same time, another Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge dismissed numerous drug cases. That judge was in fact the first to find the drug laws unconstitutional. He agreed with a ruling handed down by federal judge who found Florida's drug law unconstitutional. The federal judge sided with a defendant charged will selling, manufacturing or delivering crack cocaine. The judge was quoted as saying, "Other states have rejected such a draconian and unreasonable construction of the law." The Third District Court of Appeal has jurisdiction over Miami-Dade County and ruled against the Miami judge.

From the prosecution's standpoint, the law is still valid because a defendant can present evidence that they did not know of the presence of the illegal substance or have guilty knowledge of the illegal substance. Defense attorneys contend that the law is unconstitutional because it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant. Under the Constitution of the United States, the government has the sole burden of proving criminal charges. We should not criminalize innocent conduct and shift the burden of proof. While it is not clear what the First, Fourth or Fifth District Court of Appeal have ruled, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument on December 6, 2011.

While the drug laws appears unconstitutional on their face, the Supreme Court will want to prevent the release or discharge of thousands of convicted or charged defendants under Florida's Anti-Drug laws. However, if for some reason, the Supreme Court strikes down the drug laws, motions to dismiss drug cases should be filed across the state. Don't lose hope. The Supreme Court has in the past ruled in favor of defendants involved in large numbers of criminal cases. For example, the highest court has previously found state sentencing laws unconstitutional and has ordered the local courts to re-sentence thousands of defendants. Whatever the case may be, the Supreme Court seems poised to hand down the answer before the end of the year.

Drug Law Case on Fast Track in Florida Supreme Court, Miami, November 21, 2011.
Categories: Drug Offenses
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