Most people hope that if and when they need to stand before a court of law that there will be, to some degree, a system of ‘due process’. The term is a phrase used to describe the system of checks and balances or rather steps that each side must adhere to in order for the court to establish the accused as having received a fair trial.
Due process can also be looked at as a set of beliefs; one belief is that in order to be punished for breaking the law a citizen must KNOW that he or she is breaking the law. Now that doesn’t mean you can simply deny knowledge of how that dead body got in your trunk. And “No, Officer, I didn’t know the car was stolen either’, won’t get you any less jail time. Some crimes would not be possible without staunch intent; there’s planning, conversations, coordination and a goal to accomplish.
Other crimes aren’t that simple. Say, for example, you give your classmates a ride to gather supplies for a college group project. Like most young mobile people, most of these girls and guys carry backpacks with them. Some of them enter your car, and keep their bags with them, or maybe some of them put bags in the of your car trunk. Or maybe someone bought along supplies that you agreed to keep in your trunk until your group meets again. Your driving out and about in your every day life and you get pulled over and you consent to a search or your vehicle, or the dogs are called, either way….
A POUND OF MARIJUANA!!
Should you be facing 18 years in prison because someone’s bag had something in it and you didn’t know? What if you are a postal employee for the UPSP and someone sends a package that later turns out to be a big shipment of steroids. You’ve been doing hand to hand drug sales for months by the time the DEA runs down on them, you and the dog that chases you every day.
You would think that had nothing to do with the postal employee whose merely doing their job. You ask, “How was he/she to know what is in each package he/she delivers?’
That’s a relevent question in the other 49 states. The only problem is that Florida has no such requirement.
In 2002, Florida legislators amended the state’s drug law, eliminating the requirement that prosecutors prove mens rea, or criminal intent, as part of obtaining a convict
However, that’s recently changed through a ruling by US District Court Judge Mary Scriven who threw out the “Florida Drug Abuse Prevention and Control” law saying that it violated due process because the state did not need to prove that a person charged with a possession also exhibit intent. In Florida there was no room for accidents, or ignorance which removed the option of innocence for some convictions that were more ‘wrong place, wrong time’, then drug cartel related.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACD) who wrote an amicus brief on behalf of Mackle Vincent Shelton who was convicted in 2005 of drug charges are very pleased. Shelton who received an 18-years sentence for cocaine delivery fought to have his conviction overturned. The Florida court decided their own law was unconstitutional, Shelton’s conviction was challenged based on the grounds that the jury wasn’t required to consider intent as a requirement in order to convict him of distribution.
This ruling by Judge Scriven has opened the doors for thousands of drug convictions to be reviewed and possibly reversed. Florida defense attorneys are already preparing to file motions to dismiss numerous pending drug cases. Moves like these make me a little bit optimistic that the country is moving toward compassion in the courts and making adjustments to the perverse way we feed innocent bodies to the prison industry that’s the bloated, spoiled love child of our nation’s failed drug policy.