Tampa Bay Times recently highlighted a case that sparked Florida Senate Bill 346. The court sentenced a first time offender to 15 years in prison for attempting to sell a small number of pills to an undercover officer. The “mandatory minimum” in effect at the time of sentencing dictated this lengthy punishment, but legislation reform later revised these minimums to be more lenient. Over several years, a series of amendments redefined substance amounts and sentence lengths to give minor offenders a better chance at rehabilitation.

The recent amendments also allow current legal code to apply retroactively, meaning that outdated sentences are eligible for reevaluation based on present minimums. But courts are not revisiting these cases to date. Senate Bill 346 promised to force these rehearings and to give judges greater discretion in sentencing–even below state-defined mandatory minimums.

Senate Bill 346

The bill passed almost unanimously in the Senate but was temporarily postponed in the House of Representatives just days before the end of the legislative session, effectively killing the bill. Had it passed, it would not legalize or decriminalize any illegal substance or amount. It would, however, have allowed courts the ability to give sentences shorter than mandatory minimums for first time drug offenders. It also would have prohibited lengthy sentences for small substance amounts, defined in the bill.

Additional provisions and exemptions

The code included both simple possession and charges of trafficking. Furthermore, should a court determine a person to be wrongfully incarcerated under this legislation, they would be eligible for release with compensation. The state would reimburse such persons based on the number of years of wrongful incarceration and to expunge any criminal record related to wrongful conviction, imprisonment or arrest.

Senate Bill 346 explicitly exempted offenses involving violent behavior, so changes would not apply to possession paired with violent crimes. Other exemptions included charges related to patterns of criminal behavior, such as organized crime, and charges against persons who previously benefited from the legislation.

Had Senate Bill 346 passed in the House, it could have meant drastic sentencing reform in Florida. Even with its expiration, the bill and its popular support among lawmakers reflects trends in Florida, which are moving toward greater court discretion and more clement sentences for drug crimes.