Florida’s Drug Laws Could Be Unconstitutional
In 2002, Florida passed a drug possession law that allowed prosecutors to convict people of possessing drugs without proving the person knew the drugs were in their possession. Florida's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law became the only drug law in the nation without a required mental state. With that change, anyone could be convicted of possessing drugs, even if the drugs did not belong to them and they had no idea they even existed.
Enter U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven. In July 2011, federal Judge Scriven struck down the entire Florida drug law, saying the lack of a required mental state (knowledge) is "draconian" and violates the U.S. Constitution's Due Process requirements. While it is unknown if the State of Florida will appeal the ruling or the legislature will quickly amend the law, Judge Scriven's ruling could have widespread consequences.
Impact on Pending and Future Trials
Most Florida state judges have rejected Judge Scriven's ruling as non-binding on state courts. However, two state judges have decided they are bound by the federal judge's ruling and have dismissed dozens of criminal drug possession cases. One Manatee, Florida judge dismissed felony drug charges against 42 defendants while another judge dismissed 39 felony drug charges in Miami. With such differing judicial opinions, the Florida Supreme Court is likely to eventually resolve the matter.
Until the issue is settled, it is unclear whether Florida law enforcement agencies will criminally charge people found in possession of illegal drugs. If they do, defense attorneys may have increasingly solid grounds upon which to request that the charges be dismissed.
Impact on Prior Convictions
The biggest question is what will happen to those already convicted of drug possession under the Florida law if it is ultimately found unconstitutional. The Florida Department of Corrections reports that nearly 94,000 people have been sentenced to state prison based on convictions under the Florida Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law. Striking down the law could open floodgates like no one has seen before.
If you or a loved one has been charged with possessing drugs in Florida, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your rights.