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Senate panel approves sentencing guideline, mandatory minimum changes

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave tepid approval to a measure sponsored by Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, that would give judges discretion over sentencing for drug traffickers and lower from 85 to 65 percent the amount of time non-violent offenders would have to serve.

Doing away with Florida’s sentencing guidelines and the requirement that prisoners serve 85 percent of their sentences were among Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team’s recommendations.

They’re also part of a national movement called “Smart on Crime” pushed by conservatives like Grover Norquist as one way to cut prison costs by getting drug addicts into treatment instead of putting them behind bars.

But the bill (SB 1334) gave at least one conservative senator heartburn because it does away with the minimum mandatory sentence for drug dealers and instead would impose a $200,000 fine on someone trafficking in as much as 10,000 pounds of pot.

“It sweeps way too broadly for me,” objected Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, a lawyer. “I’m reading where it says trafficking in cocaine. We’re talking about huge quantities of cocaine. We’re talking about 150 kilograms of cocaine and there’s no minimum mandatory sentence for that kind of person.”

The bill would transfer the sentencing authority to judges, Bogdanoff argued, and would require some repeat offenders to serve 92 percent – instead of the current 85 percent – of their sentences.

“This bill doesn’t say we’re not going to put drug traffickers in jail. It just says we’re going to leave the discretion to the judge,” argued Bogdanoff. “This is a whole movement on a national level. We are putting drug addicts in jail and that does not serve society. We need to get them help.”

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