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July 13, 2012

Split Florida Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of drug crimes place mens rea burden on defendants

As reported in this Reuters article, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the state's controversial drug possession law on Thursday, ruling that defendants must prove that they did not know they were carrying an illegal substance." Here is more:

In a 5-2 ruling, the state supreme court upheld a 2002 law which puts the burden of proof on defendants. At least 48 other states require the state to prove that defendants knew the substances they were carrying are illegal.

The opinion comes a year after federal judge in Orlando ruled the entire Florida law was unconstitutional, calling it a significant departure from the notion that defendants are innocent until proven guilty....

Justice Charles Canady, said the Florida legislature was clear in its intent to crack down on drug trafficking by specifically eliminating the need for state prosecutors to prove that defendants knew what they were carrying was illegal. Prosecutors must still prove that a defendant knew the drug was in their possession.

"In the unusual circumstance where a person possesses a controlled substance inadvertently, establishing the affirmative defense available under (the law) will preclude the conviction of the defendant," Canady wrote.

In dissent, Justice James Perry said the majority ruling relied on the flawed notion that it was "highly unusual" that innocent people would unknowingly carry around illegal drugs. "Common sense to me dictates that the potential for innocent possession is not so highly unusual as the majority makes it out to be," Perry wrote.

As it stands, a final word on which ruling stands would have to be made by the U.S. Supreme Court because federal district court rulings are not binding on the state supreme court.

The full Florida Supreme Court ruling is available at this link, and here is a passage from the majority opinion's conclusion:

In enacting section 893.101, the Legislature eliminated from the definitions of the offenses in chapter 893 the element that the defendant has knowledge of the illicit nature of the controlled substance and created the affirmative defense of lack of such knowledge. The statutory provisions do not violate any requirement of due process articulated by this Court or the Supreme Court.  In the unusual circumstance where a person possesses a controlled substance inadvertently, establishing the affirmative defense available under section 893.101 will preclude the conviction of the defendant.

July 13, 2012 at 07:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Doug, another valuable post directly impacting a case I am currently working on. Thanks.

bruce

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jul 14, 2012 8:38:26 AM

The mens rea violates the Establishment Clause. If comes from the catechism analysis of mortal sin (violation of the Ten Commandments). Even the Medieval church man could not read minds, as the lawyer does today. It believed God would read the intent of the wrongdoer and judge him accordingly.

Aside from its church origin (word for word) from the catechism problem, it involves mind reading, a supernatural power. Half the criminals are drunk anyway. Some cannot even recall the crime, so even the criminal cannot read its own mind at the time of the crime.

All crime should be strict liability. The executive branch should be responsible for sentencing based on estimates of current dangerousness, calculated by past behavior (no future forecasting). Deviations from professionals standards of due care by sentencing officials resulting in injuries to future crime victims by the defendant should result in tort liability for the sentencing officials.

For example, the hunter who shoots another thinking him a deer may be far greater menace than the hunter who shoots another because the other's wife paid him $10,000. Today, the first hunter goes home, and potentially may wipe out a bus of kids going to hemophilia camp, because he is an alcoholic, and a walking human natural disaster. We know the contract killer will not kill unless paid.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 14, 2012 7:37:05 PM

::Supremecy::

I partly subscribe to your "strict liability" posture.

Take murder, straight-out, I don't know about aggravating factors, but what I mean is-->deliberate murder.

FIRST: Intent is already required to convict, otherwise it's manslaughter (accidental), and who has ever called for execution for such?

2ND: Anyone mechanically able to murder is culpable. What of all the machinations regarding diminished intent, (e.g. ambien defense) lack of maturity or intellect to comprehend mortality or morality, et al?
..............>>>>>>>>..IMMATERIAL in my humble opinion.

TIRD: What happened to the act being the plenary factor? Why is mens rea--again, beyond distinguishing basic intentionality--relevant?

check out discussion @: http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/09/compassion-takes-its-final-ste.html

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 16, 2012 11:51:26 AM

In light of the Federal District Court opinion, what is the status of prosecutions under this law in the state trial courts?

Is the Fed. D. Ct. opinion on appeal to the 11th Circuit?

If anyone knows, I'd be interested. Thanks.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 20, 2012 3:13:38 PM

The opinion comes a year after federal judge in Orlando ruled the entire Florida law was unconstitutional

Posted by: Bulls Snapback | Sep 11, 2012 8:04:42 PM

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