Prior to Wednesday, a defendant could be convicted of a drug offense even if he or she did not knowingly sell or distribute drugs in Florida. But thanks to a recent ruling by a Florida federal judge, this should no longer be the case.

According to federal judge Mary Scriven, Florida remained the only state in the country that did not require intent to be proved as an element of a drug offense. Under the Florida’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, those accused of drug trafficking or distribution of a controlled substance could be convicted even if they did not know they were selling the specific drug.

In her ruling, Judge Scriven wrote, “a person [in Florida] is guilty of a drug offense if he delivers a controlled substance without regard to whether he does so purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.” The judge then noted that all other states no longer criminalize the “unknowing” possession of a drug, concluding that the law was unconstitutional.

The ruling stemmed from a case involving a Florida man who was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison after being convicted of a cocaine offense — even though he denied knowing that he was actually selling cocaine.

It is believed that the Florida Attorney General’s Office may try to challenge the ruling. A spokesperson for the office said that it is currently reviewing the judge’s opinion.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Florida Judge Declares State’s Drug Law Unconstitutional,” Nathan Koppel, 27 July 2011.

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