For all those charged under the "Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act" who anxiously awaited for the Supreme Court of Florida to rule on the constitutionality of Florida's drug laws finally have their answer. Criminal lawyers in Miami, Florida have expressed their disappointment in the ruling. In a 5 to 2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution need not prove that a particular defendant had knowledge about the "illicit nature" of the narcotics found in their actual or constructive possession. Criminal attorneys, as well as defendants charged with drug offenses have been waiting for the opinion in which if the law would have been unconstitutional would have led to the dismissal of thousands of cases with thousands of closed cases being vacated and then dismissed.
One of the Supreme Court Justices opined, "Nor is their a protected right to be ignorant of the nature of the property in one's possession." The majority opinion also reflected that is highly unusual for an innocent person to be unaware that he or she is carrying an illegal substance. The law regarding illegal drugs was changed in 2002 when the legislation no longer required prosecutors to prove that a defendant had "knowledge" of the illegal nature of the drugs. Bear in mind that just because knowledge is not a required element to prove a drug offense, a lack of knowledge could be presented to the prosecution prior to jury in effort to favorably resolve a case. Furthermore, the defense of a lack of knowledge could be presented to a jury, which if believed by the trier of fact would lead to an acquittal in the case.
The constitutionality of Florida's drug laws became an issue when a Middle District of Florida judge wrote in an opinion that the laws were unconstitutional and "Draconian". Once that opinion came down, defense attorneys filed thousands of motion to dismiss and motions to vacate cases where defendants had already been convicted and sentenced. Only two judges in the State of Florida ruled the laws unconstitutional and granted motions to dismiss and motions to vacate. A Miami-Dade County judge dismissed 39 felony cases. A Manatee County judge dismissed 46 criminal cases, one of which was sent to the Supreme Court that led to the ruling. All of the cases have been re-filed and will be prosecuted accordingly.
One of justices found that the potential sentences one faces under the Florida drug trafficking laws are staggering, but ultimately held that the law did not violate the constitution. One of the dissenting justices pointed out several examples of how an innocent person could be ensnared in the justice system. Two of the examples are individuals who rent automobiles being arrested for drugs left behind by the prior renter or individuals in airports who mistakenly pick up the wrong bag later found to be carrying illegal substances. The president of Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) Miami branch expressed his displeasure with the ruling. None the less, the Supreme Court has ruled against defendants charged and/or convicted with drug crimes. With that being said, criminal defense lawyers will have to continue defend their clients charged with drug possession, drug sales and drug trafficking the old fashioned way, hard work and preparation.
State's Drug Law Constitutional, Florida Supreme Court Rules, Miami Herald.com July 12, 2012.