Florida bill aims to relax drug trafficking laws

Florida has some of the harshest drug trafficking laws in the country. These laws were passed in the 1970s and 1980s to combat the activities of major drug cartels, but they have been criticized in recent years for sending first-time offenders to prison for decades under their strict mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. State Senator Jeff Brandes feels that drug trafficking statutes in Florida should be revised in light of a nationwide opioid crisis, and he has introduced a bill that would give judges more discretion over how drug offenders are sentenced.

Senate Bill 694 would permit judges to ignore minimum mandatory drug-related sentencing requirements under certain situations without first seeking the approval of prosecutors. The bill, which has already been passed by the Criminal Justice Committee, would permit judges to act unilaterally when defendants are not involved in ongoing drug trafficking, did not use a weapon in their crimes and did not cause another person serious injury or death.

Florida's drug laws have been especially harsh on individuals found to be in possession of opioid pills because the entire weight of the pill and not just the narcotic component is considered when defendants are sentenced. Under the current rules, possession of just 51 grams of hydrocodone or 26 grams of oxycodone results in a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years.

Mandatory sentencing laws may seem draconian when defendants have not been in trouble with the law before and pose little threat to society. In such situations, attorneys may urge prosecutors to show leniency by reducing drug charges. A prosecutor may agree to enter into a negotiated plea agreement to avoid the risks and costs of a trial.

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