Florida has been undergoing something of a reformation, at least where its criminal justice system is concerned. Legislative changes have — for the first time — reversed the tough-as-nails approach to all drug offenses that the state adopted in the wake of the War on Drugs back in the 1990s. Now, judges will finally have some discretionary power when it comes time to sentence at least some first-time drug offenders.
Lest you think that officials have gotten softer on drug possession in the wake of changing social attitudes about marijuana, remember this: The move wasn’t really intended to benefit defendants. Instead, it’s designed largely to reduce the state’s (and taxpayer’s) expense for maintaining so many people in prison for long periods over low-level drug crimes.
In fact, the Florida Sheriffs Association is deeply opposed to all the changes in the state’s criminal justice plan. In particular, they don’t want any changes to the state’s “Truth in Sentencing” laws, which generally require convicted defendants to serve 85% of whatever sentence they’re handed before gaining an opportunity for parole. They say that the current punishments fit the crimes. Further, they assert that there’s absolutely no good to be gained from giving prisoners early release for rehabilitation efforts or good behavior.
There’s no real evidence to support their claims, and a lot of evidence around seems to refute it. In fact, in contrast to the Association’s claim that 95% of Florida’s prisoners are violent, you have only to look at the 2019 report made the Crime and Justice Institute for the state that acknowledges that 48% of new criminal cases involve nonviolent offenders.
The opposition to reform measures from the Sheriffs Association is a grim reminder that any drug crime in Florida can result in a disproportionately harsh sentence. That’s what makes it so important to seek immediate legal assistance when you’ve been charged.