A number of bills that would have boosted protections and reduced penalties for criminal defendants in Florida have failed, ending what was ultimately a disappointing state legislative session in the view of our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers.
Among the measures that failed to gain steam: Protections for juvenile inmates, scrapping the death penalty, improved cell phone privacy measures and reduced penalties for low-level drug offenders and those charged with possession of paraphernalia.
Our hope is that at least some of these actions will be picked up once again in the next session, although success will require more support from voters. It's in this vein that we'd like to further explore some of these failed measures of the 2013 session.
The first was House Bill 4005, which would have eliminated the death penalty in Florida, commuting the sentences of all pending death row cases to life in prison. This is a bill that has come up over and over again, each time with proponents arguing that the death penalty is unconstitutional. There are some states where such measure have actually been successful. Florida may have a ways to go before we reach join them. This time, it was shot down in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee - its very first stop.
Next up were SB 1350 and companion HB 963, both of which dealt with the issue of juvenile sentencing. These measures would have provided sentencing alternatives in cases where a juvenile committed a felony that would otherwise only be punishable by life in prison. Already, juveniles can't be put to death, no matter what the crime. But it's a strongly-supported view that life in prison for a crime one commits as a minor amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
These bills would have allowed that, under certain circumstances, the juvenile could potentially be eligible for a re-sentencing hearing after serving 25 years of their life sentence. Ultimately, both bills died on May 3.
Another troubling defeat also happened that day, with the demise of both SB 846 and twin bill HB 797. If these bills had passed, law enforcement agencies would have been required to obtain a search warrant before they could legally seize and search the contents of a portable electronic device, such as a cell phone. This is a critical protection because so many of the criminal cases we handle every day involve some type of electronic evidence, whether through e-mail, call logs, text messages, voicemails or private social media exchanges. When an officer seizes a person's cell phone, he or she has access to all of this information - which is an unquestionably broad search and seizure for almost any kind of investigation. Requiring a warrant would ensure that access to this information would be narrow, limited to the case at hand, and not indicative of a fishing expedition - as so many of these situations have become.
And finally, there was the passage of HB 49, which makes the sale of pipes used to smoke marijuana and other drugs illegal, as well as the failure of HB 159, which would have reduced the minimum mandatory prison sentences for those accused of prescription pain medication abuse.