A federal judge declared Florida’s drug statue unconstitutional on grounds that it doesn’t require criminal intent to be proven by prosecutors. US District Judge, Mary S. Scriven of Orlando noted in an order that was issued that Florida is the only state to eliminate criminal intent as an element of the crime in it’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.
Lawmakers enacted that Act in 2002. Her decision, if upheld on appeal could have the potential to to overturn hundreds and even thousands of drug convictions from the last few years. In her ruling, Judge Scriven cited the example of a student who hides his cocaine in a friend’s backpack without telling him. The friend, having no idea it is there, is guilty of possession even if he had no intent to possess it or didn’t know it was there. She wrote that elimination of the intent element is “atavistic and repugnant to the common law”. She also disagreed with the prosecutors argument that the friend in that case could raise his lack of knowledge as a defense.
Former state prosecutor, Bill Shepard called the ruling a huge deal and very important. Shepard who now serves on a national legal council said that the comments streaming in from prosecutors and defense attorneys from around the country are praising the ruling. The national Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and dozens of law professors filed briefs in the case. Word of the ruling lit up defense attorney list servers around the state.Nellie King, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, described the ruling as “courageous” and its implications as “monumental.” She also said that what is surprising in the case is the governments belief that stripping the intent requirement from the drug statutes was lawful from the start. Its impact on past convictions and people that are now charged under the current Florida law will not be clear until an appellate court weighs in on Judge Scriven’s Ruling, as the state is expected to appeal the ruling.