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Is Florida poised to end mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders?

Earlier this week, both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives convened in Tallahassee for the official start of the 2017 legislative session, meaning state lawmakers now have the next two months to not only champion their own legislation, but also resume longstanding debates over such familiar -- and always controversial -- issues as immigration, health care and education.

Interestingly enough, recent reports indicate that there might be one rather unlikely issue on which lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are actually able to reach a consensus: reform of the state's mandatory minimum sentencing scheme.

Indeed, just a few weeks back, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to advance Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Sen. Daryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), which would follow the lead of states like Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina by ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Specifically, SB 290, otherwise known as the "prison diversion bill," calls for the following:

  • Judges would be permitted to depart from Florida's 118 mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders (excepting those convicted of drug trafficking).
  • The Florida Sentencing Commission, which was eliminated 20 years ago, would be reintroduced with its power limited to determining the severity rankings for adding points to an individual's criminal record.

As for the reasons behind this bipartisan support of a departure from the longstanding state trend of "getting tough on crime," lawmakers indicate that it comes from the recognition that mandatory minimums are not only unduly punitive, but cost the state millions of dollars per year.

Indeed, research shows that, if passed, SB 290 would keep $131 million in the state coffers and, more significantly, keep 1,001 people out of prison.

Stay tuned for developments …

If you've been arrested for any manner of criminal offense, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options.

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