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Key member of Florida House questions retroactive sentencing

There have been a lot of changes under Florida's laws to the way that people are prosecuted and sentenced for drug crimes. However, there are hundreds of prisoners doing time for drug offenses under the old laws.

In Nov. 2018, voters in the state approved a measure that would allow lawmakers to retroactively apply the current laws to those old cases. For almost 1,000 prisoners, each serving sentences of as long as 25 years, the retroactive sentencing would reduce their sentences dramatically. It would bring them into line with what someone sentenced today might receive. In particular, this would likely free many inmates who are serving long sentences for possession or sale of prescription narcotics within the state.

Yet, there they sit -- despite the will of the voters and the injustice of it all. Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican representative from Palm Coast controls the House Judiciary Committee and is blocking the retroactive application of the legal changes. In Rep. Renner's words, "What the voters did, I'm thankful they gave us the opportunity to look at retroactivity but what they didn't do is mandate it." Since it wasn't required, he thinks that there should be no wholesale application of the law to convictions past.

What does this mean for the inmates? Consider this: One Florida woman is serving 15 years for selling 48 hydrocodone tablets to undercover operatives in two sales. Although it was her first offense, she received a 15-year sentence. Today, the same offense would net her three years (or even less) behind bars.

Many people sitting behind bars for drug crimes don't deserve long sentences. They would be better served by rehab or other intervention programs. If you're accused of a drug crime, it's wise to seek experienced legal guidance.

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