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Attorney General Moody, Sen. Tom Lee Say Bill Is Needed to Prevent 'Chaos'

March 9, 2019 - 7:45am
Tom Lee
Tom Lee

Attorney General Ashley Moody is pushing legislation she says is needed to prevent chaos in Florida’s legal system after voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that could reduce existing sentences of thousands of people convicted of crimes.

More than 4 million Floridians in November approved Amendment 11, which got rid of an 1800s-era constitutional "Savings Clause" provision that banned the Legislature from applying criminal-justice and sentencing changes retroactively.

The legislation (SB 1656), filed by Sen. Tom Lee with the help of Moody, seeks to “clarify” what voters approved and require that lawmakers sign off on the retroactive application of any new sentencing laws. Without the legislation, there will be chaos in the state's court system as thousands of defendants try to appeal sentences, they argue.

“In the abundance of caution, we just want to make sure that unless our laws specifically say so, any reduction in the sentencing guidelines in the future does not retroactively apply to current prisoners,” Lee, R-Thonotosassa, told The News Service of Florida.

The proposal will be considered by lawmakers during the session that started Tuesday, along with a number of other bills that could significantly reduce the state's prison population. One of those other changes, proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would raise the threshold amount for a felony theft change, which would potentially impact the sentences of thousands of inmates.

“We just want to make sure that ... (Brandes’) bill, or others moving through the process, specifically say that they are going to apply to people currently convicted and serving sentences for those crimes,” Lee said.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who authored the savings-clause repeal last year as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, intends to push back on Lee’s proposal.

With the help of the criminal-justice reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Rouson plans to propose an amendment to Lee’s bill that would allow any sentencing changes to be applied retroactively, according to emails obtained by The News Service of Florida.

“I think it is important to level equity and to create fairness," Rouson said. "I think that it makes sense that in an ever-evolving society, when we decide a mandatory punishment is too harsh, we should be able to apply it retroactively."

Rouson is also sponsoring legislation that would make all sentencing changes retroactive, except for those that deal with capital punishment as a result of a unanimous jury verdict and a jury's findings of aggravating circumstances. His bill (SB 704) has not been heard.

Greg Newburn, state policy director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said it is "critical" that lawmakers allow for automatic retroactivity of reductions in criminal penalties, which he says would reflect the will of voters.

Meanwhile, Lee argues the voter-approved constitutional amendment does not prevent the Legislature from picking and choosing which criminal statutes can apply retroactively.

“I guess rational people are probably going to be capable of disagreeing about that, but we have the ability to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis,” said Lee, who also served on the Constitution Revision Commission.

Lee's proposal, which was filed this week, has not been heard. But so far, it is the only priority pushed by Moody. Her office noted that the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association supports the proposal.

“There's no way to know how many cases would be impacted if our bill wasn't in place. There would be chaos in the court system with thousands of appeals and charges dismissed for crimes that were clearly illegal then and now,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Moody.


It's time to cleanup old laws in Florida......"Florida is the only state in which the constitution explicitly forbids amendments to past criminal sentences, according to a staff analysis of the initiative by the Constitution Revision Commission. The analysis gave an example that if a defendant committed certain drug offenses on June 30, 2014, he or she would serve five times longer in prison as a defendant who committed that same offense one day later.".....,.....As some would say "I wish I was in the land of cotton, Old times there are not forgotten; Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land. ".....I think one of the comments below represent the prison guards union, or as he would like to think he is the Burgomeister of the comments section.

EVERY "issue" has an "ending or starting" date... That's a necessary condition of a LAW !

Not true. You refer to a "law" which does have a start date but does not require an end date. Most laws end only if repealed by a subsequent law. This is related to a Constitutional Amendment which is not a "law" because it was not legislated by lawmakers it was approved by the required majority of our citizens. Like any provision it necessarily must have a start date but that would be the date the Amendment must be honored, however if that amendment provides an action that has a retroactive effect that is not the 'start date' of the Amendment but the range of time over which the new amendment reaches into the past. Florida already has one of the worst justice and prison systems in the world and it is corrupt, violent and designed for private profit. It really needs a good house cleaning including changes in the law to stop wasting lives and tax dollars locking up petty first time offenders who would other wise be supporting their families. We send the bread winner to prison we wind up supporting their spouse and children forever because once they get out that record makes it very hard to find work again. This is called "shooting yourself in the foot" justice.

You have a narrow understanding of Law, consider how the blind describe color, tell me are you a prison guard?

The very same four million morons who voted for "Amendment 11" are intent upon also having us smoking "medical" marijuana, and then "recreational" marijuana, with ALL the "unintended consequences" possible, before too very long. (The outdated and useless "Constitution Revision Commission" MUST be put out of OUR misery ! Legislators MUST do the jobs that they were "elected" to do,.. else they are needless automitons contributing to society's inevitable downfall..!)

There is a little thing called Oath of Office which states, in part, lawmakers are bound to defend and protect the Constitution ( state and federal) So since this is a new CONSTITUTIONAL amendment approved by voters the legislature has an obligation to defend it whether or not they (or you) like it or not. Not to find ways to avoid honoring that very constitution which appears to be what they are trying to do, just as same body in Tallahassee had to be taken to court when the PEOPLE voted an amendment to eliminate political gerrymandering.

Another garden variety GOP attempt to thwart the demonstrated will of Florida's people.

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