U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven recently struck down Florida's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, holding it violates due process because it does not require that prosecutors prove an accused knew he possessed illegal drugs to secure a conviction.
The History Of Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act
In 1996 and 2002, the Florida Supreme Court decided two cases - Chicone v. State and Scott v. State, respectively - that held directly that "knowledge is an element of the crime of possession of a controlled substance."
The Florida legislature, in response to the Supreme Court's decisions in Chicone and Scott, amended Florida's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law to remove the "intent" element from the crime of possession. The legislature specifically identified the cases by name, indicating the Supreme Court's rulings "were contrary to legislative intent."
The Only State
As Judge Scriven pointed out, "Florida stands alone in its express elimination of mens rea as an element of a drug offense." Criminal statutes that lack the mens rea (intent) element are usually found unconstitutional. This is because mens rea is often what differentiates mere negligent conduct from criminal conduct.
Generally, to be found guilty of a crime, you must be provided some "due process," i.e. a court proceeding that meets the constitutional standards necessary to take away your liberty. Under the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, you are guilty if:
- If you possess or transport a substance, and
- the substance is an illegal drug.
This means that if someone placed some drugs in your backpack and you were stopped and searched, if they found the drugs, you would be guilty. Period. As written, the Florida law requires you to prove your innocence and turns the traditional presumption of innocent until proven guilty on its head.
They ruling could have significant impact on drug cases in Florida. Defense attorneys can challenge convictions obtained under the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and there are thousands of such cases, and pending cases may dismissed.
The legislature will need to act, as the ruling invalidated the entire law, making all prosecutions problematic.
An Attorney Can Help
If you or someone you love is facing prosecution for a drug crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can assess your case and help you protect your rights. For more information, contact an attorney today.