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Florida’s High Court Affirms Guilty Until Proven Innocent Standard in Drug Possessions

| July 12, 2012

A mind-altering decision. (Pablo Evans)

Florida’s drug possession statute can force those who say they didn’t know they were breaking the law to prove that or be presumed guilty, the state Supreme Court said Thursday in one of the most closely watched Florida drug cases decided in recent years.

By a 5-2 ruling, the court upheld a 2002 Florida law that says defendants busted with drugs are presumed to have known they knew what they had was illegal, and if they claim they didn’t, requires them to prove that to jurors.

In not requiring “knowledge” of the illegality of whatever they were carrying, the law puts Florida at odds with at least 48 other states that require prosecutors to convince a jury that defendants knew they were carrying illegal drugs.

Under the Florida law upheld on Thursday, the state still must prove that defendants knew they were in possession of something – prosecutors just don’t have to prove the defendant knew that it was an illegal substance. For example, if drugs are found in the trunk of a car, the state would have to prove the defendant knew they were there. But if the defendant says he thought he was buying a bag of sugar, not drugs, he’d have to prove that to jurors, who, under the law, are allowed to presume he was carrying drugs.

The high court was asked to weigh in on the case after a state circuit judge in Manatee County last year threw out 46 drug possession cases, saying they conflicted with a recent federal court opinion that found the law unconstitutional. Lower federal court decisions, however, aren’t binding on state courts. The Manatee judge’s decision, which potentially invites the reversal of thousands of other drug possession cases, was appealed directly to the state Supreme Court.

Justice Charles Canady said lawmakers made their intent clear in passing the law.

“The conduct the Legislature seeks to curtail is the sale, manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance, regardless of the defendant’s subjective intent,” Canady wrote in the majority opinion.

Critics of the law said it violates basic federal constitutional protections and the premise that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. They also argued the law wrongly assumes that wrongful imprisonment is unlikely.

“I cannot overstate my opposition to the majority’s opinion,” said Justice James Perry in a dissent. “In my view, it shatters bedrock constitutional principles and builds on a foundation of flawed ?common sense.”

The state court ruling, however, conflicts with a federal court opinion rendered in July that found the state law problematic.

In that ruling throwing out another conviction, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven found the state’s possession law unconstitutional, saying defendants must know a controlled substance is illicit to be convicted of a drug offense.

“Other states have rejected such a draconian and unreasonable construction of the law that would criminalize the ‘unknowing’ possession of a controlled substance,” Scriven wrote.

Scriven’s ruling in Mackle V. Shelton v. Secretary of Corrections brought a deluge of litigation, leading to the dismissal of charges in circuits across the state.

“(Scriven’s ruling) has produced a category-five hurricane in Florida criminal practice,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsh wrote in an opinion dismissing charges against 39 cases in Miami.

But a final word on which ruling stands would have to be made by the U.S. Supreme Court because federal District Court decisions are not binding on the state Supreme Court.

Derek Byrd, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he expects at least one of the cases to be appealed.

“It’s disappointing,” Byrd said of the Florida court ruling.”The bedrock of criminal law has always been that there must be criminal intent.”

The case is state of Florida v. Luke Jarrod Adkins, et al. (See the full text below.)

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

Florida vs. Luke Jarrod Adkins: the full decision

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4 Responses for “Florida’s High Court Affirms Guilty Until Proven Innocent Standard in Drug Possessions”

  1. another voice says:

    The high court and state-wide elective offices here in Florida are showing themselves to be compromised to the point of uselessness. WTH is wrong with these people–do they not understand the Constitution?

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Why don’t they let these addicted people grow their own weed at home, thus dismantling the drug trafficking criminal business with their murders and all….Just throw those dudes in jail while driving under the influence and give them huge fines like they do with DUI…The poor soul that is seriously sick of real ailments is prevented from using pain killers to endure the real pain, because this system is broke and not working. Example cancer patients.
    Do these people want to grow all kinds of weeds and its flowers for their own consumption…let them. Will stop the drug trafficking. My personal opinion…We do not want addicted in our families?…then work hard at it to prevent it. Is not a bed of flowers to achieve as takes lots of work, but if the elders want their kids drug free they can do it! Just requires DETERMINATION!

  3. palmcoaster says:

    I wonder maybe 1/3 of our population, in our country is addicted? Anyone has the statistics? If so let them grow their own…then will be no more pills trade. Imagine the billions we will save if once cultivating their own allowed, we won’t need the war on trafficking. We will save billions of dollars on the armada and hundreds of thousands of lives here and across our borders, specially in Mexico.
    We had the alcohol prohibition in the 30’s, I think was? Didn’t work right? Why do they believe the war on drugs “is working”, I don’t think it is, do you? If I raised my kids substance free in America, anyone else can.
    But it takes maybe, not being your kids as much loved parents, as the peer pressure mounts.

  4. ddaug4uf says:

    This is media spin on something for the sake of a story. The onus of proving oneself innocent by specific circumstance exists already in the form of “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity”. The burden of proof does not rest on the prosecutor to prove a defendant is sane; It lies on the defendant to prove he is not sane.

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