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Different approach to fighting miami drug crimes

Posted on September 29, 2009 3:00 AM EST

For years, Miami and South Florida jails were filled with defendants a charged with possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. Other defendants were charged with sale of cocaine or sale of marijuana, in an attempt to support their drug habit. The Miami-Dade County jails became so overcrowded because people would post bond on possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana cases, and then get re-arrested for the same offenses. As a result, those convicted of violent crimes were being granted early release programs due to the overcrowding. Miami criminal attorneys routinely handle large numbers of cocaine and marijuana possession cases.

As a result of the overcrowding, then Miami-Dade County State Attorney implemented the "drug court" program. The program offered cocaine and marijuana users an opportunity to enter into drug treatment programs rather than serve jail or prison sentences. As a result of this Miami innovation, there are more than 2,100 similar drug offender programs offered around the country. Despite the novel approach to handling drug offender cases involving possession or sale of drugs, the state courts, jails and prisons are again overwhelmed by the problem.

All of the drug courts operating around the country use different models. As with all courts, some systems work better than others. The National Association of criminal defense lawyers conducted and extensive study into the drug court programs, including Miami to determine which system is the most effective. In Miami, there are usually two choices for those charged with cocaine possession or marijuana possession. The first option allows for defendants to enter into a guilty plea to the charges. If the defendant passes all of drug tests for six months to a year, the state attorney's office will vacate the plea and dismiss the charges. The other option is drug court, which allows the defendant to keep the case open for a year. If the defendant completes the assigned tasks, drug treatment and completing a requisite number of narcotics anonymous classes, the state will dismiss the charges.

The problem with these programs arises because Miami criminal lawyers are not provided the opportunity to defend these cases. Many of the cocaine possession and marijuana possession cases have defenses such as motions to suppress which are never argued, because the defendants are run through the system without the assistance of an attorney. As a result, many of the cocaine and marijuana cases are in the system for up to a year when they could have been disposed of quickly with the assistance of a criminal lawyer. Some standard of review for all drug possession and sale cases would alleviate the pressure on the system.

Rethink How We Fight Drugs, The Miami Herald, September 29, 2009.
Categories: Drug Offenses