These criminal justice reforms are now the law in Florida

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Reforms to Florida’s criminal justice system went into effect this week which lawmakers passed during 2019 session of the Florida Legislature.

Among the new laws:

– The threshold at which theft becomes a felony is now at $750, raised from $300.

– Reforms driver license suspensions and revocations.*

– Extends the time limits to report a crime from 72 hours to five days, and allows victims of crime to apply for victim compensation from 1 to 3 years.

– Licensing boards for barbers, cosmetologists, and contractors no longer can reject applicants due to a nonviolent offense that took place more than five years ago.

– Prosecutors no longer are required to automatically transfer – or “direct-file” – charges against 16 and 17-year-olds to the adult criminal justice system for certain offenses.

Although the reforms went beyond any the Legislature had enacted before to Florida’s criminal justice system, criminal justice reform advocates considered the overall bill a disappointment.

Take, for instance, raising the felony theft threshold. Some lawmakers wanted it raised to at least $1,000, but resistance by groups like the Florida Retail Federation persuaded the Legislature to set the more modest increase. Even at $750, the threshold remains the lowest in the Southeast. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama all set their felony theft thresholds at or above $1,200.

One major proposal that was pulled from the original bill would have allowed judges to depart from punitive “mandatory minimum” sentences in drug trafficking.

Another provision that didn’t survive negotiations between the Senate and the House would have allowed nonviolent offenders who exhibited good behavior while incarcerated to reduce their sentences from 85 percent of their time served to 65 percent.

Lawmakers said that “gain-time” proposal could have removed more than 9,000 inmates from the prison system by the 2023 fiscal year – and potentially saved state as much as $860 million. Lawmakers have refiled a similar proposal for the 2020 session.

*Correction:

This story originally stated that driver’s licenses can no longer be suspended for non-driving offenses. That was not correct.

The new legislation does change the one year revocation for an adult drug offense conviction to a six month suspension. It repeals all bases for suspension for minors relating to possession of, purchase of, and misrepresenting age or military service to obtain alcohol, tobacco, and nicotine.  It converts the mandatory suspension of a driver license for possession of a firearm by a minor to a discretionary suspension. It converts the mandatory suspension for graffiti committed by a minor to a discretionary suspension. And it repeals the authority of the court to suspend a driver license for an adjudication of guilt for a misdemeanor theft offense. (The bill did retain the authority of a court to suspend a driver license as an alternative sentence). It also repeals the suspension for an adult convicted of providing alcohol to a minor.

 

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

1 COMMENT

  1. @MitchPerry, we need parole reform desperately! The Commission Offender Review is not releasing people as they should. Over 350 parole eligible people died in prison last year, the Commission Offender Review has a lot of blood on their hands. Please check out the page “the Florida parole reform act of 2020” on Facebook

    - Approved by marycornatzer

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