February 27, 2020

Could sentencing reform be coming to Florida?

There’s no question about it: There are too many people in prison. The criminal justice system in most jurisdictions is bursting at the seams because there are so many defendants either serving time or waiting for trial, and it’s getting worse all the time.

Well, some Florida senators hope to change that through new measures aimed at reforming the criminal justice system within the state. A bill by Senator Jeff Brandes proposes ending mandatory minimum sentencing in most cases and puts discretionary sentencing power back in the hands of the judges hearing cases. (Prosecutors, it should be noted, oppose this. They would prefer to control that discretionary power themselves and would rather have mandatory minimums than give up that power to the judges again.)

In addition, the bill would require authorities to:

  • Review and potentially reduce the sentences of people who were imprisoned for life while still very young
  • Allow some gravely ill or elderly inmates to be released on a compassionate basis
  • Expand the compensation that’s available to people wrongly convicted

The proponents say that the prosecutor’s objections to letting judges have discretionary sentencing power are invalid. There’s no viable reason that a judge can’t take into consideration everything that a prosecutor can when deciding a sentence.

Criminal justice reform is seriously needed. Moving power back into the hands of the judges would help keep people from serving long sentences when they don’t really deserve it. Just the same, there are likely to be a lot of twists and turns before real progress is made. In the meantime, anyone accused of white collar crimes or other offenses would be smart to rely on an experienced defense — not the prosecution’s mercies.

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