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Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Crimes

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, when federal and state governments began waging the “war on drugs,” harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes became a prime weapon against drug trafficking. After decades of applying these inflexible penalties, however, the federal prison population has grown nearly a whopping ten times the size it was in 1980, and the political climate is changing. There is a growing consensus on both sides of the political aisle that existing mandatory minimum sentences are too severe and result in far too much prison time for nonviolent offenders, prison overcrowding, and skyrocketing expenses. More importantly, there is also increasing recognition that these sentences have created stark racial inequities resulting in a prison population that is disproportionately black and Hispanic.

As the Miami Herald has reported, in October 2015 thousands of federal inmates all over the country imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses were released when the U.S. Sentencing Commission decreased sentences for drug offenses and declared the changes to be retroactive. According to the Herald, at least 310 inmates were released into Florida as a result. One of these individuals, a man named Emilio Flores, was convicted of conspiring to distribute a pound of cocaine and sentenced to a draconian ten years in prison. Flores’s sentence was reduced to six and a half years, enabling his release.

Additionally, Congress has been working on legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal drug crimes. The Reuters news service reports that both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have passed bills reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders with previous convictions. Many of these bills’ provisions are retroactive, and so would cut sentences for inmates already serving time. The bills now move to the full House and Senate chambers for further consideration.

But changes to federal laws do not tell the whole story. Florida is known for having harsh mandatory minimum sentences for state drug crimes as well, and the state’s laws are not affected by changes to federal laws. But even in Florida, change is afoot. The Sun Sentinel describes efforts by state legislators in 2014 to change the mandatory minimum sentences for convictions involving the prescription drugs hydrocodone and oxycodone. Legislators intended the new law to treat drug traffickers differently from drug abusers by reducing sentences for possessing lower quantities of the drugs. The proposed law was approved and signed by the Governor in June 2014. (See Florida Statutes Section 893.135.)

Consult a Florida Drug Crimes Lawyer

Despite these welcome sentencing changes, if you are charged with a drug crime you may still face lengthy prison time, whether you are accused of minor possession or a major felony such as trafficking or intent to sell. The best way to protect your rights is to seek guidance from an lawyer experienced at defending drug crimes cases. The well-known and respected lawyers of The Baez Law Firm represent defendants in drug crime cases of all types throughout Florida, including Orlando, Miami, and Tampa. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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