January 12, 2018

Sentencing Guidelines: Are They a Waste of Taxpayer Money?

Posted in Blog |

In Florida, current sentencing guidelines often expose defendants to penalties that are far more serious than appropriate given the level of criminality and culpability of those defendants. Harsh sentencing laws make it vital for anyone accused of wrongdoing to work with experienced Okaloosa County criminal defense lawyers to fight charges with the goal of reducing penalties or avoiding conviction.

The Tampa Bay Time recently published an article addressing the issue of overly harsh penalties. The article, called Wasting money and lives in Florida with foolish sentencing laws showed the real-world impact that draconian sentencing laws can have both on the state budget and on the lives of those affected by unfair and inappropriate policies regarding criminal sentencing.

Why Florida’s Sentencing Guidelines Waste Money and Lives

The Tampa Bay Times article indicated that Florida’s drug sentencing laws are tougher than most of the sentencing regulations in other states throughout the country.  These harsh drug sentencing laws mean that people in Florida arrested for drug crimes are locked up for longer than almost any other state and that more people in Florida are imprisoned for drug crimes in Florida than in most other locales throughout the United States.

The article also provided some specific examples showing the consequences of these harsh sentencing laws. For example, one 40-year-old woman with no prior arrests who agreed to sell 35 Lorcet pills to a police informant who contacted her ended up being sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. A 53-year-old who had taken pain killers following surgery for cancer who became addicted was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for forging a prescription, and a 41-year-old found with his mother’s Vicodin in an Orlando Park where he had gone to attempt suicide was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for drug trafficking.

Each of the defendants in these example cases were sentenced under mandatory minimum sentencing laws to prison terms that are far longer than seems reasonable given the actual actions taken by the defendants. 

The minimum sentencing laws require that judges impose sentences involving a minimum number of years of imprisonment based on the amount of drugs a person has rather than based on the actual circumstances. If prosecutors decide to pursue trafficking charges based on the weight or volume of drugs and a defendant is convicted, the judge cannot consider mitigating circumstances or the actual facts of the case but instead must just sentence a defendant to a set number of years imprisonment.

Bipartisan proposals have been made to make changes to these laws, but it remains to be seen if modifications will occur — even if the evidence shows that Florida has seen a massive increase in drug offenses during the time these mandatory minimum sentences were in place to allegedly deter drug offenses.

Okaloosa County criminal defense lawyers can provide representation to defendants who are facing the possibility of being charged with a crime that carries a mandatory minimum prison term. We can help defendants to determine the best course of action to try to fight the harsh penalties through going to trial and getting acquitted or through a favorable plea agreement.

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