Florida Senate moves to give judges more discretion

Prison Tower. Photo courtesy Florida Department of Corrections

In Tuesday’s Senate Appropriation Committee meeting on criminal justice, senators moved to approve an expanded Second Look Act, or Senate Bill 1308, into a large criminal justice package for this year.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the committee but faced opposition from the Florida Association of Sheriffs.

Matt Dunagan, a representative from the Florida Sheriffs Association, argued that judges should not be permitted to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in the case of drug trafficking.

“The Sheriffs Association believes that the current framework that we have for drug trafficking provides a consistency in sentencing. It is something that is providing and assisting in Florida’s 50-year crime low,” Dunagan said. “What we have with the minimum mandatory sentences is the ability to go after and arrest those that are pedaling these very dangerous drugs in the communities.”

The bill would initially provide youthful offenders convicted before the age of 25 years old a chance to apply for reduced sentencing. It also expands the offenses excluded from resentencing opportunities from juvenile offenders who commit capital murder to murder and conspiracy to murder.

The bill takes into account the decisions made in the Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama cases prohibiting Florida juveniles from receiving the death penalty for murder. However, these inmates would not be eligible for resentencing.

Jail Cell. Photo Courtesy NBC 6 South Florida

After two committee meetings, the bill has now been combined with other stand-alone proposals to include language for retroactivity, conditional medical and an aging inmate release program.

According to Senator Darryl Rouson, judges should be allowed the same discretion in sentencing, as officers do in arrests and prosecutors do when bringing charges.

“I think it’s a little disingenuous on the part of the sheriffs and the police chiefs to oppose judicial discretion, when we honor police officers and deputy sheriffs for officer discretion,” he said. “So if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.”

Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor, said that the sheriffs’ opposition is based on fundamental differences in opinion regarding mandatory minimums.

“We should in turn give that discretion directly to the judge as they are the ones that we have asked to be impartial in the determination on justice issue, and that’s what this bill looks to do,” he said. “It also looks to provide justice but recognizing that individuals change”

He also reiterated the saying heard in the meeting:  “Character is not static.”