The opioid crisis has wrought untold devastation on the state of Florida. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this drug epidemic claimed a shocking 3,245 lives in Florida in 2017 alone. Local legislators are determined to bring that number down as soon as possible. They recognize, however, that Florida mandatory minimum sentencing for opioid trafficking has done little to accomplish this all-important goal. In fact, overdose and addiction rates have increased since mandatory minimum sentences were first introduced. Meanwhile, traffickers have spent years, even decades behind bars — regardless of the specifics of their alleged crimes.
Clearly, there is a strong need for reform. Hence, the popularity of the Florida First Step Act, which would end drug trafficking-related mandatory minimum sentences. The proposed legislation would also grant judges greater leeway over non-violent sentencing. Below, we offer insight into the proposed legislation — and we explain how this bill could benefit the community at large.
The Florida First Step Act: The Details
Under current Florida law, a mandatory minimum sentence of three years applies to those convicted of trafficking just four grams of opiates. That minimum increases dramatically along with the volume of opiates. A single gram could spell the difference between several years or well over a decade in prison. While this may seem harsh, it actually represents a dramatic reduction in mandatory sentences compared to those applied prior to the 2014 passage of CS/SB 360.
While today’s traffickers face far lighter sentences than their predecessors, they still tend to suffer harsh sentences that cannot be swayed based on unique circumstances. The Florida First Step Act would change this, allowing judges to sidestep mandatory minimums when warranted.
Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg filed the bill, which is largely modeled on a federal initiative known as the FIRST STEP Act. Senator Brandes hopes Florida’s edition of the bill will ultimately “allow judges to be judges.”
What Does this Mean For Accused Drug Traffickers?
Florida’s long history of mandatory minimum sentencing has devastated much of the community, causing many to spend huge portions of their lives behind bars — often due to trafficking accusations that barely reach the state’s shockingly low threshold. The Florida First Step Act grants these individuals the hope of a brighter future, in which they can pay their debt to society without spending decades behind bars. Finally, their sentences might accurately reflect the true nature of their allegations.
In addition to preventing excessively lengthy prison stints for non-violent offenders, the Florida First Step Act could save the state millions of dollars every year, according to a policy brief recently released by Tallahassee’s James Madison Institute. That money could be better spent on more effective initiatives, including those aimed at reducing the recidivism rate. The ultimate goal: a healthier Florida, in which fewer people succumb to addiction — and fewer spend their lives behind bars.
If you have been accused of trafficking or committing another drug-related crime in the Destin area, you cannot afford to take a passive approach. Your future hinges on the outcome of your case. By working with a highly skilled criminal attorney, you could secure a lighter sentence, a not guilty verdict, or even a case dismissal. Attorney John F. Greene is happy to guide you every step of the way. Call 850-424-6833 at your earliest convenience to learn more about your options or to schedule a case consultation.