"Our state has taken an overly punitive approach to narcotics, and it's time that we took a more sensible one," said Maria Hale, Orlando drug defense lawyer.
Orlando, FL (PRWEB) March 19, 2013
The Florida Legislature is currently meeting in Tallahassee, considering possible changes to state law, including laws that pertain to how the State of Florida punishes those convicted of possessing controlled substances. Two bills would change how the state punishes drug trafficking. Both bills would constitute a positive change for Florida law, said Orlando drug crimes lawyer Maria Hale.
"Our state has taken an overly punitive approach to narcotics, and it's time that we took a more sensible one," Hale said. "Simply locking people up for as long as we can get away with has not been productive."
One proposed law would carve out an exception to mandatory minimum sentencing laws for prescription drug trafficking. House Bill 159, has had what is called a "First Reading" in the Florida House of Representatives, which is a procedural step towards a final vote, after passing through committee. Its companion bill, Senate Bill 420, received a favorable 6-1 vote in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. It must now go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and pass a vote in the full Senate.
If both chambers pass these measures, a conference committee made from senators and representatives will hash out the differences between the two bills. If Gov. Rick Scott then signs the bill, it becomes law.
The proposed law would allow the court to depart from the current mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for drug trafficking offenses if the drug in question was a prescription drug or some variation of a prescription drug. Currently, there is a three-year minimum prison sentence on trafficking a certain amount of controlled substances: 4 grams of oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine or other prescription opioids, 14 grams for amphetamines, etc. The more drugs the defendant is convicted of possessing, the higher the minimum sentence.
The court would have the discretion, under this law, to depart from the mandatory minimum if the defendant attends a drug court program. The House of Representatives Staff Analysis says one justification for this bill is that prescription drugs contain large amounts of noncontrolled substances: only 10 milligrams of hydrocodone are in a normal pill, which weighs 650 milligrams, or .65 grams. However, since the mandatory minimum sentencing is structured by weight, someone who is actually only carrying 70 milligrams of hydrocodone would be carrying more than 4 grams of pills, and would get the minimum sentence.
"This is a step in the right direction," Hale said. "This is not a perfect approach, but it shows some reasonableness. As an Orlando drug defense lawyer, I've seen the impact of our state's 'throw the book at them' tactics, and they don't work. The Legislature should pass this bill, and the governor should sign it."
Another bill, House Bill 193 and its companion, Senate Bill 1078, would raise the minimum amount of a some controlled substances allegedly possessed for trafficking charges to be filed. For instance, if a suspect is accused of possessing 28 grams of cocaine under current law, he or she would face trafficking charges. Under the proposed law, it would take 50 grams to constitute trafficking charges.
House Bill 193 and Senate Bill 1078 have yet to be considered by their committees. The Legislature's annual regular session adjourns May 3. If the bills have not passed by then, they will likely have to wait until next year.
"The State of Florida's drug laws are much too punitive at this point," Hale said. "I'm optimistic that we'll see some positive change after this session."
Maria Hale, a founding partner of the law firm Hale, Hale & Jacobson, is an Orlando criminal defense attorney who represents those charged with drug trafficking and other crimes, including driving under the influence, marijuana crimes, domestic violence and other charges.