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Last Updated on: 18th October 2023, 09:01 am
Amendment 821 is a new law that was just passed here in Florida that reduces sentences for some drug offenses. It’s a pretty complicated law with a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, so I wanted to break it down into simple terms for folks to understand what it actually means.
Basically, Amendment 821 reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for some drug trafficking offenses. A mandatory minimum sentence means judges don’t have a choice – they have to sentence someone to at least that minimum number of years. With this new law, those mandatory minimums are lower for some crimes.
For example, trafficking between 4 and 14 grams of opioids like heroin or fentanyl used to require a minimum 3 year sentence. Now under Amendment 821, that amount has a minimum sentence of just 1 year. The minimums are reduced for other drug amounts too.
The reason for this change is because a lot of people felt like some of Florida’s drug sentencing laws were too harsh. Sending someone away for years and years for a small amount of drugs can ruin their life. The hope is that with lower sentences, people will have a better chance to turn things around once they get out of prison.
Now this is where things get a little tricky. Amendment 821 allows people who are CURRENTLY serving time for one of these offenses to petition to get their sentences reduced.
But it’s not automatic – you have to go through a process to request it. There will be hearings where prosecutors can argue why they think you should still serve the original sentence. At the end of the day it’s up to the judge whether to lower your sentence or not.
The key is you have to take action and file a petition. The court isn’t just going to go back and reduce people’s sentences without being asked. Contact a lawyer to find out if you may be eligible and what you need to do.
The reduced mandatory minimums apply to most illegal drug trafficking offenses, including:
One exception is that trafficking marijuana still has the same mandatory minimum sentences. The only change for marijuana crimes is that possession of over 20 grams was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Here’s where things get really complicated. Amendment 821 only reduces mandatory minimums for drug trafficking offenses. Trafficking means selling, distributing or importing large quantities of drugs.
But what if you just got charged with a normal drug sale, and not trafficking? For example, selling any amount of heroin is normally a 2nd degree felony with a max of 15 years. Unfortunately Amendment 821 does NOT change this – only trafficking minimums are reduced.
There is an exception if you meet these two requirements:
If you meet both, you can file a petition to get re-sentenced like it WAS a trafficking offense. But again, this is only for small quantities below the trafficking levels.
This really depends on the specifics of each case. The mandatory minimums are now lower, but there’s no guarantee anyone will get the new minimums. It’s up to the judge.
For current inmates, the judge will look at factors like your history, behavior in prison so far, and likelihood to reoffend. They could potentially give you something close to time served, or just take a year or two off your original sentence.
For new cases going forward, judges will likely hand down sentences much closer to the new minimums. But there’s still a lot of discretion based on the situation.
Unfortunately if you already completed your sentence, there is no provision in Amendment 821 to get it reduced after the fact. Any relief only applies to people currently serving time.
The good news is that getting released early due to Amendment 821 can help in other ways. For example, if you were originally sentenced before 1994, you were likely banned from voting for life as a felon. Now that your sentence is reduced, you may be able to get your voting rights restored!
It remains to be seen what kind of impact Amendment 821 will really have. Some people think prosecutors will still push for long sentences, arguing people are a danger to society.
But at minimum, thousands of current inmates will get a second chance to petition for a reduced sentence. And for new cases, judges will have more discretion to hand down fair sentences rather than being forced by rigid mandatory minimums.
It’s not a complete solution, but it’s a step in the right direction to give people a chance at redemption rather than locking them up and throwing away the key.
The most important thing is that Amendment 821 does NOT automatically reduce anyone’s sentence. Current inmates must petition the court first. Make sure to contact a lawyer to understand if you may qualify.
And for new cases, mandatory minimums are now lower but judges still have broad discretion. So having an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical to getting the fairest sentence under the new law.
Sentencing reform is complicated, but Amendment 821 marks an important shift in Florida’s criminal justice system. This gives judges more flexibility to make sentences fit the crime, instead of blindly following harsh mandatory minimums.
While not perfect, it’s a step toward a more just, common sense approach to drug crimes. But there is still a long way to go to enact broader reforms.
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