January 16, 2018

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IMPORTANT SENTENCING REFORM BILLS IN 2018 FLORIDA SESSION

12/8/17

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The 2018 legislative session starts next month, and this week is the last committee week of the year. There was some movement on an important sentencing reform bill and I wanted to give you an update on where things stand.

SB 694, by Senator Jeff Brandes, would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimums for drug trafficking convictions in certain circumstances. (See FAMM’s summary of the bill here). SB 694 was heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday. I testified on behalf of the bill — you can see my testimony at the 32:08 mark here — and after a good discussion by the committee I’m pleased to report the bill passed 5-1.

SB 694 has three more committee stops before it can be heard on the Senate floor. The House companion bill, HB 481 by Representative Ben Diamond, also creates a safety valve for drug trafficking offenses. (HB 481 is summarized here.) That bill has not yet been heard in committee. We are tracking both bills and will let you know as each one progresses through the process.

Please feel free to email me — gnewburn@famm.org — with any questions you have about the bills, or about sentencing reform in Florida generally. As always, thank you for supporting FAMM.

Sincerely,
Greg Newburn
State Policy Director, FAMM
1100 H Street NW | Suite 1000 | Washington, D.C. 20005 | (202) 822-6700

History of Legislation:
2017:

HB 481 by Representative Ben Diamond, and SB 694 by Senator Jeff Brandes, create exceptions to mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking offenses in Florida. However, while both bills provide such exceptions, they are not identical. Below is a summary of each bill

HB 481

HB 481 adds a section to Florida’s drug trafficking statute. The new section allows sentencing courts to depart from mandatory minimums – down to 1/3 of that minimum – if the court finds on the record that:

  • The defendant has not previously been convicted of drug trafficking or any other violent offense;
  • The defendant did not engage in a “continuing criminal enterprise”;
  • The defendant did not use or threaten violence, or use a weapon, during the offense; and
  • The offense did not result in a death or serious bodily injury to another person.

Example: Under current law, a first-time offender convicted of illegal possession of more than 50 Oxycodone pills faces a 15-year mandatory sentence. Under HB 481, a judge has the option of sentencing the same offender to five years in prison instead. However, if the same defendant has been convicted of drug trafficking (or any violent offense) previously, or if the court finds the defendant meets the criteria for participation in a continuing criminal enterprise, or if the defendant used a weapon or threatened violence during the offense, the judge would not be able to depart from the mandatory minimum.

SB 694

SB 694 adds a section to Florida’s drug trafficking statute. Like, HB 481, the new section allows sentencing courts to depart from mandatory minimums under certain circumstances. However, SB 694 creates fewer exceptions to such departures and does not provide a minimum. Under SB 694, courts may impose a term of imprisonment less than the mandatory minimum if all of the following circumstances are met:

  • The defendant did not engage in a “continuing criminal enterprise”;
  • The defendant did not use or threaten violence or use a weapon during the offense; and
  • The defendant did not cause a death or serious bodily injury.

Example: Under current law, a first-time offender convicted of illegal possession of more than 50 Oxycodone pills faces a 15-year mandatory sentence. Under SB 694, a judge has the option of sentencing the same offender to any prison sentence the court deems warranted. However, if the same defendant is found to have participated in a continuing criminal enterprise, or if the defendant used a weapon or threatened violence during the offense, or if the defendant caused a death or serious bodily injury, the judge would have to impose the mandatory minimum sentence.

2016:
Governor Rick Scott signed CS/SB 228, which repeals the mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated assault with a firearm! Beginning July 1, 2016 – and for the first time since 1999 – judges will have discretion over sentencing in aggravated assault cases. Learn more here. FAMM has worked for years to reform Florida’s 10-20-Life gun sentencing law.

A new bill to implement a safety valve, a mechanism to enable judges to depart below the mandatory minimum under certain circumstances, has been introduced in the Florida Senate. The bill would restore needed judicial discretion for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors that carry mandatory minimum sentences. Although it recently passed one committee stop, we do not expect the bill to become law this session; however, we are working closely with the bill’s sponsors and supporters, and hope to lay the groundwork for success in the near future.

2014:
Florida raised the threshold weights that trigger mandatory sentences for Oxycodone and hydrocodone trafficking, and recalibrated mandatory sentences for those offenses. It also created a “safety valve” for certain aggravated assault offenses. In 2016 Florida repealed the mandatory minimum for aggravated assault with a firearm.

 QUICK FACTS

State Expenses/Budget:

  • Florida Department of Corrections prison budget = $2.05 million
  • Total State cost of prisons = $2.08 billion
  • Average annual cost per inmate = $20,553

State Population: 19.89 million people

    Prison Population: 

  • Housed: 98,010 inmates in its 150 correctional facilities
  • Supervised: over 136,500 active offenders on community supervision throughout the state.

 

How You Can Advocate for Sentencing Reform in Your State

You can do several things to work toward reforming your state’s sentencing laws – go to our get involved page to find out how.

Encourage your state lawmakers to support mandatory minimum sentencing reform. Be sure to connect with FAMM and other sentencing reformers on FacebookTwitter, and by signing up for our email list.

Sentencing/Criminal Justice Reform Groups in this State:

LINK: http://famm.org/states-map/florida/

 

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