State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, D-Orlando, has filed a bill to remove mandatory minimum sentence for non-violent drug offenders (HB 6029) in the Florida House.
Eskamani aims for the bill to be a step toward deterring drug-related crimes with rehabilitation programs and drug courts instead of draconian sentencing.
This is Eskamani's second attempt to pass these reforms, as the last repeal died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in March of 2020.Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines have not always been the letter of the law in Florida. Prior to the 1983 Florida Sentencing Guidelines, Florida judges had more freedom in sentencing. The guidelines provided judges with a point system that would tally up a person's past and present offenses. This left judges to choose sentencing based on a suggested range, depending on the number of points an offender had.
The Criminal Punishment Code that passed in 1998 would be the final evolution of Florida's sentencing guidelines with the intention of creating uniform and unbiased sentencing.
However, researchers at the Crime and Justice Institute published a report in 2019 that found that the opposite had happened: Florida prison sentencing is inconsistent across counties, and sentences often surpass the minimum sentencing requirements.
Under current sentencing guidelines, possession of relatively small quantities of drugs — e.g. two tablespoons of cocaine, 4 grams of heroin — would get you a mandatory minimum imprisonment of 3 years along with a $50,000 fine for either. While possession of 25 pounds of cannabis would call for a mandatory minimum imprisonment of 3 years and a $25,000 fine.
Eskamani is hopeful this legislation will address these major cracks within Florida's criminal justice system."Today mandatory minimums are used in situations far different than those anticipated by the law's authors. They have sent thousands of low-level drug offenders to prison," Eskamani said in press statement announcing the bill. "We should let judges be judges and repeal mandatory minimums, especially those for non-violent drug offenders."
This article first appeared at our sister publication Orlando Weekly.
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