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My Two Cents on Judicial Discretion in Florida

What happens when Florida voters are unhappy with the performance of an elected official, such as an elected district attorney? They have the opportunity to vote them out of office!

Why wouldn’t that same logic be applied to allowing for judicial discretion on mandatory drug-trafficking sentences? After all, if Floridians are unhappy with their elected judges, they can simply vote them off the bench.

If that isn’t a reasonable enough argument, we can look to mounds of data and relevant research on how mandatory minimums don’t deter crime, or contribute positive outcomes to the “war on drugs.” However, mandatory minimums have had a robust effect on our state budget.

I find it interesting that some law-enforcement agencies oppose long over-due reforms to Florida’s mandatory minimum policies, especially since some Florida sheriffs are releasing offenders below the 85% law, some as low as 75%, as stated by Dr. Bloomberg in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Perhaps their reasoning may be to make room in over-crowded jails. Nonetheless, judges should have similar discretion over the sentence they hand down in drug trafficking cases.

Thankfully, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley proposed SB 346, and Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes proposed SB 468. Both provide for the application of judicial discretion (also known as a safety valve) for drug-trafficking offenses under specific circumstances. House Representative Alex Andrade has also proposed HB 339, which also includes a safety valve for drug-trafficking offenses as well as raises drug-weight thresholds.

As we do with prosecutors, sheriffs, and other elected officials tasked with maintaining the rule of law, let’s trust our judges to do the same. That is what their constituents elected them to do. If we don’t like the results, they answer to the voters. Did I mention that most Florida voters support judicial discretion?

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