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Prescription-Drug Trafficking Sentencing in Florida Has Drawbacks

A man intent on taking his life instead received a 15 years prison sentence. The man brought 31 painkillers and a bottle of Natural Life to Orlando's Cherry Tree Park. An officer caught him drinking the beer and then arrested him for illegal possession of pharmaceutical drugs.

The number of pills in his possession led to a charge for prescription-drug-trafficking. Mandatory-minimum sentences were included in the law to discourage trafficking in prescription drugs. The mandatory-minimum sentence is based on the weight of the pharmaceutical drugs.

In this case, the hydrocodone pills weighed in at just over 22 grams enough to trigger a mandatory-minimum sentence of 15 years. However, hydrocodone made up a small portion of the pills and was only 0.23 grams.

Tough Drug Law is Overinclusive

While the prescription-drug-trafficking law was meant to target those selling prescription drugs on a large scale, it has been used against many addicts who might be better served by rehab. Some critics have argued that the law unfairly takes discretion away from judges and unfairly uses the total weight of pills rather than actual amount of the controlled substance in pills.

The number of inmates, who were charged with trafficking in oxycodone, as well as hydrocodone, is on the rise in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, increases in prosecution and sentencing have been drastic:

  • Inmates sentenced for trafficking between four grams and 14 grams of a prescription-drug increased 23 percent from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011
  • Inmates sentenced for trafficking 14 - 28 grams of a prescription-drug increased 13 percent over the same time period
  • Inmates sentenced for trafficking 28 grams - 30 kilograms of a prescription drug increased 21 percent over the same time period.

Many prescription-drug addicts finance their addiction by selling pills, thus the law is sending more addicts to prison that actual drug kingpins.

One Fort Lauderdale State Senator would like to remove the mandatory-minimums and change the current law to only count the controlled substance weight in pills. The Senator's bill was withdrawn in the last legislative session, but she plans to continue to her efforts.

Under the current legal framework, it is all the more important to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney. With mandatory-minimum sentences making sure any possible defenses are aggressively pursued is vital.

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