Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice Reform

by Ian Pickens

The Florida Legislature recently passed a criminal justice reform bill.

On May 3, 2019, the Florida House of Representatives put the final stamp of approval on House Bill 7125 by a vote of 110-0, sending the bill to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The bill includes changes to multiple areas of the criminal justice system.

One of the changes incorporated in the bill is the raising of the threshold amount for a felony-level theft. Felony-level theft is referred to as grand theft. Prior to the passing of this bill, the threshold amount was $300 or more, meaning if the value of the items was $299.99 or less, then the charge would be a misdemeanor petit theft offense, while $300 to $5,000 was a third degree felony. The amount was raised from $300 to $750, which means that if the value of the items alleged to have been stolen is $749.99, the offense will typically be a misdemeanor level offense.

Another change that we see in this bill is that a third offense for driving while license suspended (DWLS) will be a misdemeanor level offense instead of a third degree felony, unless a DUI charge is involved. However, while a third offense DWLS has been lowered to a misdemeanor, it now carries a mandatory 10-day jail sentence.

One important area of the criminal justice system that was left out of the bill was the lowering of the required amount of time persons charged with nonviolent offenses would have to serve before they could be released. Currently, a person may be released after serving 85 percent of their sentence. There was a push by the Florida Senate to lower that time from 85 percent to 65 percent for certain nonviolent inmates, but the Florida House passed the final version of the bill without that language in it. The Senate untimely gave its final approval on May 2 on that version of the bill.

Even though the lowering of the required amount of time an inmate must serve on their sentence or changes to minimum mandatory sentencing was not included, this bill is still a good step forward towards criminal justice reform.

I anticipate that once these changes are implemented and with the continuing push to create change in the criminal justice system, we will see more bills coming out of the Florida Legislature dealing with the other issues, such as sentencing and placing more of a focus on rehabilitation of the individual.

As Sen. Jeff Brandes stated, “I hope over the next few years we will cast a bold vision of what criminal justice reform should look like in this state. .. about a third of our inmates are functionally illiterate. And a policy that releases people back on the streets with nothing but 50 bucks and a bus pass and then wonders why 72 hours from now they’re homeless and recommitting crimes, it’s a failure of the system.”

Here’s to hoping.