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Bills submitted to eliminate minimum mandatory sentences on drug trafficking cases

Posted on March 08, 2011 3:00 AM EST

The Florida legislature will consider two bills aimed at eliminating minimum mandatory sentences on drug trafficking cases. For years, defendants charged with drug trafficking offenses, such as marijuana trafficking, cocaine trafficking, heroine trafficking and trafficking in prescription medications face draconian sentences if convicted of these types of offenses. Miami criminal defense lawyers have struggled for years with cases involving minimum mandatory prison sentences. It has always been difficult to obtain waivers from the state. Even first-time offenders faces the stiff penalties surrounding the minimum mandatory sentences.

Until the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office revamped its narcotics unit, defense attorneys seldom had less difficulty getting division prosecutors to waive the minimum mandatory sentences. Currently all requests for minimum mandatory waivers must be reviewed by the narcotics unit prosecutors and approved at the highest levels of the state attorney's office. Generally, waivers are only granted if the defendants agree to cooperate with law enforcement officers or if there are significant defects in the case itself. Minimum mandatory sentences will be waived if there are search and seizure issues involved with the case. For example, questionable searches or arrests made in violation of a defendants constitutional rights will often lead to waivers of the harsh sentences.

Due to the drug trafficking problems that existed in Miami in the late 80's and early 90's, the legislature passed laws that put the minimum mandatory sentences into effect. For example, cocaine trafficking in excess of 400 grams carries a 15 year mandatory sentence, trafficking in excess of 28 grams of heroine carries and 25 year mandatory sentence and oxycodone trafficking in excess of 28 grams carries a 25 year mandatory sentence. Mandatory sentences refer to sentences that are the minimum that a court can sentence a defendant to in the event of a conviction. Mandatory sentences also require defendants to serve every day of the sentence imposed. Generally, defendants only serve 85% of the time for which they are sentenced. Mandatory sentences require defendants to serve 100% of the sentence imposed by the court.

The removal of mandatory prison sentences would provide defense attorneys with more flexibility in resolving cases for client. The change in the law would also give more flexibility to prosecutors to resolve cases by allowing them to offer pleas well below the mandatory sentences. The removal of the mandatory sentences would then allow plea negotiations to begin with guidelines set forth under the Florida statutes which when calculated are far below the mandatory sentences. Rather than starting with the mandatory sentences, defendants would begin plea negotiations at the bottom end of the guideline range. The comments above are in no way meant to infer that defendant arrested on trafficking charges should enter guilty plea. Rather, drug trafficking cases should be fought even if it eventually requires a jury trial. However, well prepared cases with viable motions to suppress or motions to dismiss should be fought until a favorable plea is offered or until the case is set won at trial.

Proposed Bills Would Eliminate Mandatory Sentencing for Drug Trafficking, Florida Independent.com February 24, 2011.
Categories: Drug Offenses