Criminal Justice Reform Bill Is A First Step Toward Fairness

  • Sep 20 2019

Tough on crime policies have been a disaster. Thousands of non-violent Floridians are rotting in prison because they made bad choices years ago, and politicians are finally starting to realize this comes at a great cost. Not only does it take a lot of money — $2.7 billion a year in taxpayer dollars — to house our state’s bloated prison population, it also tears apart families, messes with the labor market, and sows distrust in government. It is past time to make some changes, and Florida policymakers have taken notice. This summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a historic criminal justice reform bill into law. 

We have previously blogged about the changes it made to the felony theft threshold, but that is not the only important update this new law makes.

Driver’s License Suspensions & Revocations 

We have also blogged about Florida’s harsh driver’s license suspension laws in the past. Perhaps our call for change was heard by policymakers because the criminal justice reform bill makes some significant changes to the license suspension system that has trapped many people over the years. 

The new law reduces the license suspension time for a drug conviction from one year down to six months, and courts will no longer suspend a driver’s license for a theft conviction unless the defendant is under the age of 18. Judges have also been granted the authority to be lenient when they are asked to suspend the license of a driver who is behind on his or her child support payments.

Starting October 1, the third time someone is caught driving with a suspended license, they will be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a third-degree felony. The charge comes with a mandatory 10-day jail sentence, but that is nothing compared to getting charged with a felony. 

In order to get more drivers who have had their licenses suspended back to driving legally, clerks of court will now be required to hold at least one Driver License Reinstatement Day a year. During this event, the clerk’s office will stay open for extended hours, reduce some fines, and collaborate with the DMV to speed up the license reinstatement process. 

Drug Court 

Once this new law goes into effect, many more people charged with crimes will be able to opt into “problem-solving courts” like drug court and mental health court. Participating in one of these programs can get charges dropped or sentences reduced. 

Occupational Licensing 

Even after you have done your time, a criminal conviction can continue to haunt you. It can make it very difficult to find a job, and people without jobs are more likely to commit crimes. Once again, it’s a cycle of poverty and crime that the state is facilitating. But finally, Florida is doing something about this. 

The new state law makes it easier for people with criminal records to get certain occupational licenses in fields that are regulated by state law. The law allows inmates to receive credit for training done while they are in prison, and forces licensing agencies to accept applications from prisoners. 

Criminal Records 

The new law also makes it easier to seal records when a person was arrested but not charged, the charges were dismissed, or the person was acquitted.

A First Step 

While all of these changes are great, this new law should not be viewed as a one and done accomplishment. It should be the first step toward more and bigger reforms. 

Our laws should evolve and change to fit the times we live in. There are still significant changes that must be made in order to make our system more just. 

In the meantime, those of us at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC will continue to advocate for reduced charges and more lenient sentences for our clients. Prosecutors and judges have the authority to dismiss charges they believe are inappropriate and be lenient in their sentencing. We urge them to do so. 

Posted in: Criminal Justice Reform