Sentence reform measure expands in Senate

Florida Prison 1
Bill is now the Senate criminal justice package.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice approved “The Second Look Act”: legislation that could help imprisoned young adults.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ (SB 1308) would allow people convicted of crimes when they were 25 years old or younger to apply, in certain situations, for a sentence review to reduce their sentence or suspend it immediately.

“Character is not static,” Brandes noted in his close. “Sometimes justice demands a second chance.”

The bill was already ambitious before the committee. It became more far-reaching thereafter.

Those convicted of murder or conspiracy to murder, or for life sentences, are excluded. However, others will be considered by release from the Department of Corrections based on the likelihood of recidivism, the victim’s dispensation toward the criminal, demonstrations of remorse, and mitigating circumstances, such as abuse or trauma.

Those deemed able to re-enter society could have sentences changed to long probationary stretches ranging from three years to five years and up depending on the severity of the offense.

Additionally, The Office of Program Policy and Governmental Accountability would be compelled to study ways to ease the transition, specifically eyeing barriers to re-entry, as well as consequences of reintegration and mitigation strategies for the process.

A strike all amendment included other Brandes bills, including retroactivity, conditional medical release and the aging inmate release program, with Brandes saying this bill is now the Senate criminal justice package for this year.

“The amendment removes certain mandatory minimums … expands forensic evidence [if there is a chance that it could exonerate] … use of the national DNA system,” Brandes said.

Among the mandatory minimums targeted: fixed terms for poaching spiny lobsters and for practicing unlicensed medicine.

There was some pushback, via the Florida Sheriff’s Association, regarding proposed sentence mitigation and the elimination of mandatory minimums for drug possession, which would permit judicial discretion.

Mandatory minimums allow for a “consistent floor,” went the argument.

Brandes noted that the FSA is objecting to material already considered in legislation from Sen. Rob Bradley, saying mandatory minimums are used as a “sword … to force people to settle.”

The Senator noted that just as law enforcement officers have discretion, so to should judges.

Sen. Darryl Rouson pushed back on the “disingenuous” argument from the FSA against judicial discretion, countering the proposition that the bulk of convicts for drug trafficking have had long criminal histories, even if outside the state Department of Corrections.

Brandes’ bill has Appropriations ahead before the Senate floor.

While the House version (HB 1131) never got a committee hearing, this bill now represents the Senate’s ambitious pitch for meaningful reform.

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Florida Politics’ Janelle Irwin Taylor contributed to this post.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]



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