Families Against Mandatory Minimums Hopes to Change Sentencing Laws in Florida
But since Gov. Rick Scott announced his plan to cut more than a billion dollars from
Newburn's organization will be directly lobbying state legislators and plans to organize grassroots campaigns around the state, trying to get more people interested in the issue.
Right now, taxpayers spend about $20k per prisoner per year. "Two prisoners is a teacher in the classroom," Newburn says. "Every time we put two of these people in prison, we're essentially taking a teacher out of the classroom. It's time to decide what we value as a state."
The first target for FAMM is the state's drug trafficking statute, which deems trafficking means a possession of a certain weight, regardless of whether the defendant had intention to sell or distribute. Right now, if someone is caught with 14 to 28 grams of pills -- "about half the weight of a Hershey bar," Newburn points out -- that person faces 25 years in prison. The same crime in Texas, a state not known for being soft on crime, carries a sentence of two years.
"I have to express my deep concern about this particular situation... This punishment does not fit the crime. We are not talking about a first- or second-degree murder... With a great degree of reluctance, I will have to sentence the defendant [to] 25 years minimum mandatory."
Another case is that of Todd Hannigan. In 2008, Hannigan, an addict with several stints in prison under his belt, wanted to kill himself. He grabbed a bottle of his mother's Vicodin pills and a six-pack of beer and headed to a nearby park to finish himself off. Except someone saw him drinking and called the cops. When they arrived, they found 31 pills and charged him with trafficking hydrocodone.
He went to trial, was found guilty, and was sentenced to 15 years. At the sentencing, Judge Timothy Shea said:
"I do believe this is an inappropriate sentence for you. I really believe that. But there are restraints placed on my ability to stray from the statutory framework for sentencing... Mr. Hannigan, if there should be some change in the legislative framework that would result in [your] early release... no one would be happier than I.
"The legislature has... decided to transfer a significant amount [of what] once was judicial discretion to the prosecutorial arm of this state. There's nothing I can do about that. There's nothing I can do about that at all... Under this set of circumstances, this court does nothing more than perform an administerial function. I sign the papers. I'm on autopilot."
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