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bieramar

"Guilty until proved innocent" law overturned

Federal Judge Rules Florida Drug Law Unconstitutional

July 30, 2011 | FoxNews.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -  A federal judge has struck down a Florida drug law that convicts suspects of a drug offense even if they are unaware that the controlled substance is illegal. 

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven found the 9-year-old law unconstitutional in a decision Wednesday and called for the resentencing of Mackle Shelton, who had faced 18 years in prison.

The ruling could pave the way for drug cases currently in the courts to be thrown out.  "Obviously, we are immediately drafting motions and pursuing this line on behalf of our own clients' (cases) that are pending, but we can't do much retroactively since those cases are closed," said Bob Wesley, public defender for Orange and Osceola counties. "I think it will be a robust line of litigation for all of us who appear in Florida criminal courts."

Tampa attorney James Felman, who won the landmark case, says the Florida legislature went too far.  "What the legislature attempted to do was essentially presume guilt and then let you come in and prove your innocence if you wish to avoid being imprisoned," Felman told MyFoxTampaBay.com.

When the law was passed in 2002, Florida became the only state not to require that a suspect have knowledge that a controlled substance is illegal to be convicted. The law shifted the burden from prosecutors having to prove that a suspect knew to the defendant having to assert ignorance about the illegality of the controlled substance

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office says they are currently reviewing the case. Many thing [sic] the state will appeal the decision.
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Click for more on this story from MyFoxTampaBay.com:
http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/...w-ruled-unconstitutional-07292011
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One of a plethora of laws around the nation passed when legislators knee-jerked and reacted to 9/11 - and in this law moved the burden of proof of innocence to the accused, instead of the burden of proving guilt on the prosecution.  "Innocent until proven guilty" needs always to be a fundamental of U.S. justice.
Phred

Quote:
"What the legislature attempted to do was essentially presume guilt and then let you come in and prove your innocence if you wish to avoid being imprisoned,"


Hmmm ... let you come in and prove your innocence???

How about they come arrest your butt, take you to jail and, depending on a bail decision, keep you there until the courts decide your guilt or innocence.

Isn't that a presumption of guilt?

Quote:
Florida became the only state not to require that a suspect have knowledge that a controlled substance is illegal to be convicted.


Hmmm ... isn't that kinda like "ignorance of the law is no excuse"???
bieramar

"Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is a toughy, both in practice and in principle.

It IS a true principle - one I first experienced when I was 11 years old - fishing in Minnesota with my mom and dad - when I fileted a legal limit of crappies and bluegills and packed them in an ice chest for transport back home to Iowa. None of us knew it was illegal to transport unidentifiable fish (no heads, no gills, no skin/scales, no fins) across state lines - until we were searched by a game warden at the state line.  Those were his very words: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"!  

But in practice, like in the now-overturned Florida law, the application of the principle can easily be abused.

I understand the intent of prosecuting illegal drug sellers/buyers when the product proves to be ersatz - and agree that prosecution and conviction should proceed notwithstanding the lack of any illegal drugs being present. The intent to perform an illegal act is the key in that situation.

But how about when a person is in pain and asks a friend for aspirin, or ibuprofen, and the friend gives him a couple oxycontin, and a couple more for later at home?  
The guy with the sprained ankle, or splitting headache, or whatever, may truly be ignorant that a law is broken because of the possession of an Rx drug - may not even know it IS an Rx drug.  Under the Florida law guilt was presumed.

It sort of like if you try to spend a counterfeit $50 or $20, and are completely ignorant that is is counterfeit.  If the fake money is detected you lose it - period.  I don't like that law, which essentially is the same principle, "Ignorance that the money was fake is no excuse."
coebul

Phred wrote:
Quote:
"What the legislature attempted to do was essentially presume guilt and then let you come in and prove your innocence if you wish to avoid being imprisoned,"


Hmmm ... let you come in and prove your innocence???

How about they come arrest your butt, take you to jail and, depending on a bail decision, keep you there until the courts decide your guilt or innocence.

Isn't that a presumption of guilt?

Quote:
Florida became the only state not to require that a suspect have knowledge that a controlled substance is illegal to be convicted.


Hmmm ... isn't that kinda like "ignorance of the law is no excuse"???


And Casey Anthony felt the affects of that legal premise she spent more then 3 years in jail based on the guilty until proven innocent.  And even more interestingly she was!!!
coebul

bieramar wrote:
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is a toughy, both in practice and in principle.

It IS a true principle - one I first experienced when I was 11 years old - fishing in Minnesota with my mom and dad - when I fileted a legal limit of crappies and bluegills and packed them in an ice chest for transport back home to Iowa. None of us knew it was illegal to transport unidentifiable fish (no heads, no gills, no skin/scales, no fins) across state lines - until we were searched by a game warden at the state line.  Those were his very words: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"!  
There was a bag limit on Crappie and Bluegills in the 40s?

bieramar wrote:
But in practice, like in the now-overturned Florida law, the application of the principle can easily be abused.
So now the state has to prove you knew is was heroin you were injecting into your body before you can be convicted?   Will this principle transfer over to prostitution?  That is the state has to prove you knew she/he was a prostitute to gain conviction?  

bieramar wrote:
But how about when a person is in pain and asks a friend for aspirin, or ibuprofen, and the friend gives him a couple oxycontin, and a couple more for later at home?  
The guy with the sprained ankle, or splitting headache, or whatever, may truly be ignorant that a law is broken because of the possession of an Rx drug - may not even know it IS an Rx drug.  Under the Florida law guilt was presumed.

It sort of like if you try to spend a counterfeit $50 or $20, and are completely ignorant that is is counterfeit.  If the fake money is detected you lose it - period.  I don't like that law, which essentially is the same principle, "Ignorance that the money was fake is no excuse."
Except in the case being over turned the guy was buying illegal drugs.

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