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September 30, 2011

Constitutional questions over Florida's drug offenses on fast track to state's Supreme Court

This local article, headlined "Florida Supreme Court to decide drug law's constitutionality," reports on an important development in the constitutional litigation concerning the Sunshine State's drug crimes. Here are the details:

On Wednesday, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal issued an order asking the Florida Supreme Court immediately to resolve an issue that has sprung up in courtrooms statewide in recent months: whether Florida's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. If the court strikes down the statute, the ruling would likely overturn thousands of convictions and exonerate hundreds of people recently charged with drug crimes.

In the past 31 years, only about a dozen times has the appellate court deemed an issue so important that it sent the case directly to the Supreme Court and requested an immediate ruling. The appellate court's order was in response to a recent ruling by Tampa-area Circuit Judge Scott M. Brownell, who earlier this month decided the law was unconstitutional.

"Until this important constitutional question is resolved by the Florida Supreme Court, prosecutions for drug offenses will be subject to great uncertainty throughout Florida," the appellate court opinion read. "It will be difficult to reach a final resolution in many of these cases until the issue is resolved."

Under the statute, which was created by the Florida Legislature in 2002, defendants can be convicted of a felony merely by possessing an illegal drug, regardless of what they meant to do with it or if they even knew what they had was illegal. Brown and other lawyers have argued that stipulation makes the statute unlawful. At least three Florida judges — one in federal court and two at the circuit level — recently ruled that the law was invalid.

In almost every case brought before circuit courts, prosecutors have argued that judges must rule that the statute is valid because two district courts of appeal — including the 2nd — had previously determined that the law is constitutional.

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September 30, 2011 at 09:37 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I honestly have to wonder how screwed up one's priorities and values have to be to think it's a good idea to impose severe criminal penalties on someone who had absolutely no intention of doing anything wrong.

Posted by: JDU | Oct 11, 2011 4:35:18 PM

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