Alternative Sentencing

When it comes to drug crimes, Florida is one of the toughest states. Many minimum mandatory drug law sentences remain, a relic of the failed “War on Drugs” that continues to unsuccessfully combat drug crimes while decimating individual lives, families and communities.

The good news is there is a growing recognition of the fact that harsh penalties for non-violent drug offenders is ineffective, both in terms of cost and recidivism.

There is a broadening, collective understanding that many drug crimes only victimize the defendant, and if the state is truly serious about reducing drug crimes and access to drugs, we must provide addicts the help they need to get clean and the social support necessary to help them lead productive lives.

This is why, where possible within the legal framework, an increasing number of municipalities and courts are embracing alternative sentencing options. A knowledgeable and experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney can use such options to a clients best advantage.

Alternative sentencing for drug crimes may include:

  • Drug treatment programs
  • Drug counseling
  • Drug court
  • Substance abuse courses
  • Community service
  • Probation

A 2009 Florida Senate Issue Brief noted Florida was experiencing high rates of recidivism and probation violations by drug offenders who sometimes committed low-level property crimes to support their habits. The legislature reasoned a years-long sentence for simple possession of cocaine or marijuana, and with the average cost per inmate at more than $55 daily and $22,100 annually, it doesn’t make much sense to keep arresting these offenders and locking them up long-term.

This was especially true since 1995, when Florida slashed its “gain-time” policy, also known as “Truth in Sentencing,” which generally required inmates to serve at minimum 85 percent of the sentence imposed by the court. This meant inmates had little incentive to attend substance abuse programs, earn vocational certificates or study for their GED – all of which are proven to reduce recidivism of drug crime offenders.

Following this report, many district courts began adopting “drug courts” as a way to effectively manage the growing drug-crime caseload and, hopefully, reduce recidivism. The state now allows criminal defendants who are chronic drug abusers to request withholding adjudication and sentencing in lieu of being placed on drug-offender probation or in some other sentencing alternative that focuses on treatment.

Drug Court in Broward County

In this regard, Broward County was well ahead of the curve, as it established its drug court in 1991. It’s the third-oldest such court in the country.

The court’s treatment division serves 800 people daily, and serves to provide a diversion from both jail and prison for those addicted to drugs.

There is first a pre-trial intervention program which aims to offer an alternative to traditional lock-up for those first-time offenders charged with a non-violent crime involving the purchase or possession of a controlled substance or other related crime.

Additionally, there is a diversionary treatment program designed to reach adjudicated felons from returning to prison.

Both programs require offenders be at least 18-years-old. The pre-trial diversion program requires no felony conviction and a substance abuse-related charge. Those in the diversionary treatment program must not have and sentence score higher than 60. Some offenders may have more than 60 points if their reason for ending up back in prison was a probation violation related to a failed drug test.

The programs offer:

  • Diagnostic services
  • Education
  • Treatment interventions
  • Routine drug and alcohol screening
  • Case management and relapse prevention
  • Psychiatric counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Help with transitional housing

The court notes at any point during involvement in the program, a participant can be referred to necessary treatments such as detoxification, non-residential day treatments, intensive residential treatments and sometimes jail-based classes. Alternative treatment options are also available with court approval.

In some instances, successful completion of these programs allows defendants to avoid adjudication, which could help keep their permanent records clean. That’s why it’s always an option our Fort Lauderdale drug defense lawyers explore.

Clearing the Path for Alternative Sentencing

While many courts will take into consideration a defendant’s “score” in deciding whether he or she is eligible for alternative sentencing options, some courts have made exceptions.

One of the more recent noteworthy examples was in McGrill v. State, before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here, defendant was charged with possession of cocaine, pleaded no contest and then also filed a motion for alternative sentencing per F.S. 948.20, the drug offender probation statute.

However, his score sheet exceeded the statutory maximum of 60 points to be eligible for the program. District court found he was not eligible for drug offender probation, but the 4th DCA overturned, finding the statute didn’t bar non-violent felony offenders from seeking alternative sentencing.

The court didn’t grant defendant was necessarily entitled to it, but found he wasn’t barred from receiving it solely on that basis alone.

Our experienced legal team can carefully assess your case to determine whether alternative sentencing may be an advantageous option for you in a pending case.

Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (877)-ARREST-0 (277-3780).