In September of 2011, the Second District Court of Appeal issued an order asking the Florida Supreme Court immediately to resolve an issue that has sprung up in courtrooms statewide in recent months: whether Florida’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Argument was heard before the State of Florida’s top court in December. A ruling is expected soon.
If the Supreme Court of the States of Florida rules in favor of the statute then nothing will change. If it strikes it down? It will amount to earth shattering change in the law. A seismic shift in the platonic plates of criminal court. Such a ruling would likely overturn thousands of convictions and exonerate hundreds if not thousands of people recently charged with drug crimes.
Over the last three decades only about a dozen times has an appellate court deemed an issue so important that it sent the case directly to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida and requested an immediate ruling. The Second District Court of Appeal determined this was one of those times: “Until this important constitutional question is resolved by the Florida Supreme Court, prosecutions for drug offenses will be subject to great uncertainty throughout Florida.” The appellate court opinion continued to read. “It will be difficult to reach a final resolution in many of these cases until the issue is resolved.”
Under the statute, which was created by the Florida Legislature in 2002, defendants can be convicted of a felony merely by possessing an illegal drug, regardless of what they meant to do with it or if they even knew what they had was illegal. At least three Florida judges – one in federal court in the Orlando Division and two at the circuit level in Miami and Bradenton – recently ruled that the law was invalid.
In almost every case brought before circuit courts, prosecutors have argued that judges must rule that the statute is valid because two district courts of appeal, including the Second District Court of Appeal, previously determined that the law is constitutional. Until a higher court rules in opposition lower courts must stay the legal course. This is called legally binding precedent.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court of Florida rules one can expect the issue will not be settled. This matter will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.