December 22, 2017

Criminal Justice Reform Package Revealed

Posted in Blog |

The state of Florida has a problem with mass incarceration, in part because of overly harsh sentences for minor offenses.  Defendants accused of wrongdoing in the state of Florida need to get help from Okaloosa County criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible so they can try to fight for justice within a system that has serious problems.

According to WUSF, even many lawmakers acknowledge that the current system in Florida is simply not working as it should. In fact, there is a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have introduced two proposals to reform the current system and make important changes.

What’s in the Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Package?

According to WUSF, the first proposal in the bipartisan criminal justice reform package is a proposal to raise the threshold for felony property theft. Currently, in the state of Florida, a defendant can be charged with a felony offense for stealing just $300 worth of property. This is far lower than in most other locations throughout the country and it has serious repercussions because a felony makes it much harder to get a job and causes a long-term loss of rights while a misdemeanor does not have such far-reaching consequences.

Under the bipartisan reform that is being proposed, lawmakers want to change the threshold to $1,500 before a defendant could be charged with a felony property theft crime. This would put Florida in line with neighboring states that have the same threshold.

The second proposed reform plan involves giving judges in Florida more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences. There are currently many offenses in Florida for which a convicted defendant must serve a certain period of time in jail. This can result in unfair outcomes as judges cannot take mitigating circumstances into account when deciding how someone should be sentenced for a crime.  It can also prompt even innocent people to accept plea deals because those individuals may be afraid they will end up facing a long mandatory minimum jail sentence if they take the chance of fighting the charges in court.

The proposed change would allow judges to have more flexibility and not necessarily impose the mandatory minimum sentence in all cases where there is a proscribed penalty.  One of the state senators pushing the bill, a senator from St. Petersburg, has spoken about the importance of flexibility in sentencing, especially in cases involving drugs.   He indicates that if judges are given more flexibility, they may still impose the mandatory minimum if appropriate. However, as he said: “in certain cases the best thing to happen is individuals go receive treatment for their addictions.”

The proposed change allowing more flexibility in mandatory minimum sentence would allow for judges to have more leeway in most drug cases but judges would not be able to impose less than the mandatory minimum if the offense was part of organized crime, was violent, or resulted in serious injury or death.

It is not clear if reforms will pass and, unless and until they do, defendants may continue to be subject to overly harsh penalties in Florida. Okaloosa County criminal defense lawyers can provide representation to defendants to help fight serious and potentially life-changing penalties.

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