Thousands in Florida Jails Could Be Released If Drug Law Deemed Unconstitutional

Late last month, an Orlando-area judge ruled a major Florida drug law that's been on the books since 2002 unconstitutional. Just last week, a Miami judge cited that ruling and overturned the conviction of 39 defendants. The rulings will have to work their way through the courts, but if a higher court deems the laws unconstitutional, thousands of Florida prisoners' sentences could be overturned.

In 2002, Jeb Bush signed the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control act into law. In most other states, a prosecutor must prove a defendant knew he or she owned or sold illegal substances. Since 2002, Florida has been the only state in the nation that doesn't have a "knowledge requirement" in its main drug law.

Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, at least two judges have ruled the Florida law violates the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause.

"It's a mess," Ricardo Bascuas, a University of Miami law professor, told the paper. "There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know how this is going to play out.".
Since 2002, Florida has sent about 94,000 people to jail on drug convictions. The vast majority of them were prosecuted under the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed an appeal in both cases, and they will likely find their way to either the state or U.S. Supreme Court, or a lower federal court. If those courts uphold the original judges' rulings, the law would be deemed unconstitutional and thousands of convictions could be overruled.

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