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Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Gains Traction, But House Version Is Missing Key Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Reductions


In April, the Florida House finally filed a long awaited response to a criminal justice bill filed by State Senator Jeff Brandes that would adjust mandatory minimum sentencing and increase the focus of Florida prisons on the rehabilitation of inmates. Fortunately, both the right and left have praised the criminal justice bill; citing a goal of turning Florida into having the best criminal justice system in the country.

Florida currently houses approximately 100,000 prisoners; 85,00 of which are due to re-enter society sometime in the next five years.

Key Provisions Of Senate Bill: Career Rehabilitation, Judicial Discretion Instead Of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing & Raising Felony Theft Charge

One of the key aspects of the legislation is a provision allowing people with prior felony convictions to more easily obtain professional licenses that would allow them to become business professionals, such as contractors, barbers, plumbers, and similar licensed professions, as well as reducing sentences for prisoners who complete certain programs while in prison; implementing  certain vocational certification programs; and creating a release orientation program for prisoners.

Another key provision–similar to the federal First Step Act that passed earlier this year–would provide judges with more discretion over sentencing for certain drug crimes instead of defaulting to already-established sentences mandating that convicted defendants serve a certain number of years in prison and pay a particular fine.  In addition, the felony theft threshold would be changed from a mere $300 to $1,000. However, some criminal justice advocates feel that it still does not go far enough in protecting juveniles from automatically being sent to adult court, as it provides the power to state attorneys to decide if they should be transferred there in some circumstances.

Serious Concerns Over House Version

Some advocates are also concerned that the House version of the bill effectively abandons the goal of abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing by abolishing it for one crime only: the crime of illegally selling horse meat that is improperly labeled. Some are also concerned that additional judicial deference–when it comes to sentencing–could possibly lead to racial discrimination because it does not allow for discretion for certain types of “dangerous” criminal convictions, which, according to the statistics, are more likely to involve people of color.

The bill passed through its first committee on April 9, however, some Committee heads have indicated that the House is open to adding additional sentencing changes to the bill.

Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Attorneys To Find Out More

If you have been accused of a crime, contact our experienced Orlando criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm in order to ensure that your civil rights are protected throughout the process.


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