In the wake of the current opioid crisis, Florida prosecutors and law enforcement have stepped up their efforts to crack down on the growing epidemic. However, filling prison cells with those who suffer from addiction may not be an effective way to combat the problem.
An ongoing problem calls for new measures
That's why one Florida lawmaker is taking a more sensible approach to dealing with the opioid crisis. State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has introduced new legislation that could reduce the likelihood of serving a minimum mandatory sentence for first-time drug offenders, according to a News 8 article.
Senate Bill 694 would give more power to Florida judges to decide which sentences best fit defendants' crimes. This means that if the bill passes, then judges will have the authority to waive the minimum mandatory sentence without the approval of the prosecutor. As a result, SB 694 may help curb Florida's growing prison population - where drug offenders make up about 22.5 percent of new inmates - and allow for alternative options for addicts.
However, this bill will only apply to three scenarios involving first-time drug offenders:
- No other ongoing criminal acts, aside from possession or distribution of drugs, were committed by the defendant.
- The defendant didn't commit any kind of violence or threaten to do so in relation to the drug-related crime.
- The defendant didn't cause harm, injury or death to another party while committing a drug-related crime.
Florida law (Statute 893.135) defines drug trafficking very broadly. It doesn't only include the sale, production, or delivery of controlled substance. It also extends to purchasing and possessing certain amounts of a controlled substance by weight. In Florida, drug trafficking carries hefty legal consequences in comparison to possession. Simply carrying 7 to 14 grams of Oxycodone can result in a prison sentence of three years.
Furthermore, the age-old police tactic of "substantial assistance" provides almost no leeway for those arrested for possession of drugs. Many of these defendants suffer from addiction but have little to no information to help police regarding drug traffickers. For this reason, many of these drug offenders end up serving the minimum mandatory sentence.
Additionally, defendants could find themselves on the wrong side of the law for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being tricked into participating in drug trafficking.
If you have been arrested and charged with a drug-related crime, the first thing you should do is assert your Fifth Amendment rights and remain silent when being interrogated. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights.
The choices you make following an arrest could be the determining factor between freedom or imprisonment. The attorneys at Aguilar & Sieron, P.A. are dedicated to helping criminal defendants prove their innocence. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.