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Miami court revives constitutionality of state illegal drug law

A state appeals court on Wednesday rejected a federal judge’s controversial ruling that Florida’s drug statute is unconstitutional. Story here.

Miami-Dade’s Third District Court of Appeal said it did not agree with a ruling by U.S. Judge Mary Scriven, of Osceola County, which said Florida’s drug law was “draconian” because prosecutors don’t have to prove that the accused actually knew of the illicit nature of the drugs they were carrying.

Scriven’s ruling, in Shelton v. Department of Corrections, has sparked thousands of requests statewide from defendants seeking their freedom.

At the heart of the issue is Florida’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law. In May 2002, the Legislature changed the state’s existing law, removing the burden of authorities to prove that the accused had “knowledge” of the illicit nature of the drugs, although the defendants could raise that defense at trial.

In Miami-Dade, about 60 judges have rejected efforts to dismiss charges based on Scriven’s ruling, according to Assistant State Attorney Christine Zahralban, who is in charge of litigation in these cases.

Only one judge, Milton Hirsh, agreed with Scriven, tossing out scores of drug cases in rulings that have been hailed by defense lawyers but derided by police and prosecutors.

Wednesday’s Third DCA opinion also noted that it rejected Hirsch’s ruling, although it was not ruling directly on cases from his court. The appeals court actually upheld a decision by another Miami-Dade judge rejecting an appeal by Jasper Little, 49, convicted in 2003 and 2004 of cocaine possession and selling cocaine.

“Today’s decision strongly reaffirms the constitutionality of Florida’s drug laws used by prosecutors and law enforcement officers in their daily battle against drugs,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.

-- David Ovalle

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Paul Felix Schott

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Justice Department Opens Investigation into the Miami Police Department

MIAMI– The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a civil investigation into allegations of excessive use of deadly force by members of the city of Miami Police Department (MPD), in accordance with the pattern or practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The department’s investigation will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers of MPD. During the course of the investigation, the Justice Department will consider all relevant information, particularly the efforts that MPD has undertaken to ensure compliance with federal law and the experiences and views of the community. The Justice Department has taken similar steps involving a variety of state and local law enforcement agencies, both large and small, in jurisdictions such as Newark, N.J.; Seattle; Puerto Rico; New Orleans; and the District of Columbia.

This matter is being investigated by attorneys and staff from the Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. They will be assisted by experienced law enforcement experts. The department welcomes the views of anyone wishing to provide relevant information. If you have any information, please feel free to contact the department at 1-877-218-5228 , or via email at community.miamipd@usdoj.gov.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________


11-1503
Civil Rights Division

PS
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The Lord's Little Helper
Paul Felix Schott

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"At the heart of the issue is Florida’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law. In May 2002, the Legislature changed the state’s existing law, removing the burden of authorities to prove that the accused had “knowledge” of the illicit nature of the drugs, although the defendants could raise that defense at trial." - And I wonder why this was changed?

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