For starters, well, they're draconian. Try 15 years for 30 pills. A mere 4 grams of prescription drugs will garner a 3-year mandatory minimum term in prison.
Second, Florida's mandatory minimums are particularly good at scooping up addicts and others who need treatment, not prison. Todd Hannigan, a FAMM member, is one example:
Todd Hannigan wanted to end his life. He ended up with a 15-year-prison sentence instead.
Two years ago, Hannigan, now 43, took a bottle of Natural Light and 31 of his mother's painkillers to Orlando's Cherry Tree Park, where a police officer caught him drinking the beer at a picnic table.
Because of the number of pills in his possession, Hannigan was arrested under Florida's prescription-drug-trafficking law — which carries a range of mandatory-minimum sentences depending on the weight of the narcotic.
In Hannigan's case, the total weight of the hydrocodone pills was just more than 22 grams — enough to give him a 15-year sentence, even though he wasn't actually selling or distributing the drug. ...Third, the way the pills are weighed means that other non-controlled ingredients get counted toward the drug weight that triggers the mandatory sentence. As in Hannigan's case:
... But in reality, court records show, only a minuscule amount of that was the narcotic hydrocodone: just 0.23 gram. The overwhelming majority of each pill was made up of acetaminophen and inactive ingredients.Fourth, mandatory sentences steal judges' power to do what taxpayers are paying them to: actually judge. Here's the reaction of Orange County Circuit Judge Tim Shea to sentences like Hannigan's:
"The Legislature has, in its infinite wisdom, decided to transfer a significant amount, which was once judicial discretion, to the prosecutorial arm of this state. There's nothing I can do about that," Shea said. "Under this set of circumstances, this court does nothing more than perform an administerial function. I sign the papers. I'm on autopilot. So I would suggest you take it up with the Legislature."One Florida legislator, at least, is taking up the issue:
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who has tried to overhaul Florida's prescription-drug laws, said the prescription-drug epidemic and surge in arrests are having a "huge" impact on the system.
Bogdanoff sponsored legislation earlier this year that would have — among other things — removed mandatory-minimum sentences for prescription-drug trafficking. The legislation also would have defined the weight as that of the controlled substance, and not other substances in the pill makeup. That bill, introduced in February, died several months later and was withdrawn. She plans to renew those efforts.FAMM's Florida project is fighting to fix these irrational, problematic, faulty laws. Floridians deserve better laws and better justice than this.
"We're incarcerating drug addicts," Bogdanoff said. "We have to treat the drug addicts. In the long run, they don't belong in jail."