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Florida Supreme Court Upholds State Drug Laws

Posted by on in Florida Criminal Law
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The Florida Supreme Court has ruled, in an opinion dated July 12, 2012, that Florida drug laws are constitutional, rejecting arguments that the drug statute’s failure to require proof of knowing possession violates due process of law.  In the case of State of Florida v Luke Jarrod Adkins, a five justice majority concluded that, “Given the broad authority of the legislative branch to define elements of crimes, the requirements of due process ordinarily do not preclude the creation of offenses which lack a guilty knowledge element.”

Two Florida Supreme Court Justices, Quince and Perry, dissented.  In his written dissent, Justice Perry wrote, “I cannot overstate my opposition to the majority’s opinion.  In my view, it shatters bedrock constitutional principles and builds on the foundation of a flawed ‘common sense.’” His opinon lists a multitude of examples of how otherwise innocent individuals face potential prosecution under Florida’s drug possession statutes.  

The majority found that statutory provisions allowing for an affirmative defense that one did not know the illicit nature of the contraband possessed was sufficient to withstand the constitutional challange.  Justice Perry rejected the majority’s conclusion stating as follows:

But the affirmative defense at issue is hardly a friendly opportunity; rather, it is an onerous burden that strips defendants—including genuinely innocent defendants—of their constitutional presumption of innocence.   The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.

This ruling of the Florida Supreme Court will undoubtedly be appealed to federal Courts.  As of this moment The Florida case of Mackle Vincent Shelton v Florida DOC, which raises the very same issues as those raised in the Adkins case, is pending before the Federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

UPDATE August 24, 2012: Federal Appellate Court Refuses To Find Florida’s Drug Statute Unconstitutional

More Information:

State Supreme Court upholds drug-possession penalties

Odd Florida Law: Possession Without Intent a Crime

Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.