2017 Florida bills propose a variety of criminal justice reforms

2017 Florida bills propose a variety of criminal justice reforms.

A Florida Senate Bill (SB 290) sponsored by Criminal Justice and Darryl Rouson (D) proposes ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, allowing judges to depart from the 118 mandatory minimum sentences under Florida law [CS/HB 641 is a similar House bill]. The bill would exclude drug trafficking, violent offenses, and offenses against minors among other things. The legislation would also restore the Florida Sentencing Commission as an “advisory body within the [Florida] Supreme Court” for the purpose of “providing advice and recommendations to the Governor, the Supreme Court, and the Legislature regarding the appropriate offense severity level rankings for noncapital [nonviolent] felonies.” Basically they could make recommendations as to the number of “points” added to an offender’s criminal record (points are used by judges when considering the severity of sentencing). The “prison diversion bill,” as it has been called, would also allow for alternative sanctions instead of prison for nonviolent felonies, including probation, community control, or community supervision with mandatory participation in a prison diversion program of the Department of Corrections. Such programs may require residential, nonresidential, or day-reporting requirements; substance abuse treatment; employment; restitution; academic or vocational opportunities; or community service work. To be eligible for court lenience in the sentencing, an individual must not be convicted of or have a prior conviction for a capital felony or forcible felony. The bill lists several mitigating circumstances under which a departure from a mandatory minimum sentence is reasonably justified, such as cases where:

  • The defendant accepts responsibility and entered an uncoerced plea bargain.
  • The defendant was an accomplice to the offense and was a relatively minor participant in the criminal conduct.
  • The capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminal nature of the conduct or to conform that conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired.
  • The defendant requires specialized treatment for an addiction, a mental disorder, or a physical disability, and the defendant is amenable to treatment.
  • The need for payment of restitution to the victim outweighs the need for a prison sentence.
  • The victim was an initiator, willing participant, aggressor, or provoker of the incident.
  • The defendant acted under extreme duress or under the domination of another person.
  • The defendant cooperated with the state to resolve the current offense or any other offense.
  • The offense was committed in an unsophisticated manner and was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown remorse.
  • At the time of the offense the defendant was too young to appreciate the consequences of the offense.
  • The defendant is to be sentenced as a youthful offender.

The bill is estimated to save hundreds of millions of tax dollars and has support from both liberal and conservative advocates.  A similar bill (HB 641) has been filed in the Florida House.

Other proposed criminal justice reforms include:

SB 312 (sponsored by Criminal Justice and Dennis Baxley (R)) is called the “Eyewitness Identification Reform Act.” This legislation seeks to prevent false identification of innocent persons in a lineup due to bias of the administrator or pressure (real or perceived) on the eyewitness to identify a suspect. It would set standards for conducting a lineup and would require the person administering the lineup (either photo or live or by other means) to be independent of the investigation. It would require eyewitnesses to sign an acknowledgment that they have received the instructions about the lineup procedures from the law enforcement agency, such that: the perpetrator might or might not be in the lineup; the lineup administrator does not know the suspect’s identity, (except that this instruction need not be given when a specified and approved alternative method of neutral administration is used); the eyewitness should not feel compelled to make an identification; and a note that it is just as important to exclude innocent persons as it is to identify the perpetrator; and the investigation will continue with or without an identification.

SB 296 (sponsored by Randolph Bracy (D)) modifies some requirements during police interrogation of felony suspects. The legislation clarifies requirements for hearsay statements in order to be admissible as evidence. It would also require police to record in entirety the interrogations of felony suspects in an attempt to end false or coerced confessions. It would also require that the person being interrogated be given all constitutionally required warnings and he/she knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waives any rights set out in the warnings.

SB 494 (sponsored by Rob Bradley (R)) modifies a current state law known as the “Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act” (F.S. 961). Currently, persons who were wrongfully incarcerated, whose felony conviction and sentence have been vacated by a court, are ineligible for compensation if they had any past felony conviction – despite being falsely imprisoned on the current charge. SB 494 modifies the statute to specify that only prior violent felony convictions would make the wrongfully incarcerated victim eligible for compensation. Some say this bill is a start, but that false imprisonment should be compensated regardless of a person’s past unrelated conviction.

SB 302 (sponsored by Jeff Brandes (R)) would prevent Floridians from having their driver’s licenses suspended for a reason unrelated to a driving violation. The legislation would reduce the number of offenses for which license suspension is prescribed and prohibit suspensions for those who show in court an inability to pay fines and fees.

SB 448 (sponsored by Jeff Brandes (R)) Encourages local communities and public or private educational institutions to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenders; authorizing law enforcement officers, at their sole discretion, to issue a civil citation to adults under specified circumstances, instead of filing criminal charges. The pre-arrest diversion program is intended to afford certain adults who fulfill specified intervention and community service obligations the opportunity to avoid an arrest record. The Legislature does not mandate that a particular pre-arrest diversion program for adults be adopted, but finds that the adoption of the model provided in the bill would allow certain adults to avoid an arrest record, while ensuring that those adults receive appropriate intervention and fulfill community service obligations. Analysis of this bill by the Florida Senate staff (read here) discusses the intent, potential benefits, and financial impact of similar legislation that was proposed in 2016 by Sen. Greg Evers. The bill suggests such pre-arrest diversion programs allow for community service and payment of restitution to the victim, and/or other requirements, with the option of being charged criminally if requirements are not met. Related bills (HB 205 and HB 367) have been filed in the Florida House.

SB 458 (sponsored by Jeff Brandes (R)) creates a Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force whose job will be to study, evaluate, analyze, and undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s adult criminal justice system, using a data-driven approach, to develop sentencing and corrections policy recommendations for proposed legislation that will accomplish the following goals: reduce correctional populations and associated correctional spending by focusing prison capacity on serious offenses and violent criminals; hold offenders accountable more efficiently by implementing or expanding research-based supervision and sentencing practices; reinvest savings into strategies shown to decrease recidivism, including reentry outcomes.



Florida considers big change to mandatory minimum sentences, called waste of taxpayer money

Task force would seek to remake Florida’s criminal justice system

Jeff Brandes’ legislation would reform why state suspends driver’s licenses

Florida bills encourage civil citations instead of criminal charges for some misdemeanors