Some sanity in Florida

Federal Judge Rules Florida’s Drug Laws Unconstitutional

Hold on. Don’t get too excited. Drugs aren’t suddenly legal in Florida.

A federal judge in Orlando has declared Florida’s strict-liability controlled substances act unconstitutional on the ground that the law could convict an innocent person of drug distribution who unknowingly possessed, transported or delivered a controlled substance. The laws’ fatal flaw is the lack of a criminal intent requirement, which the legislature purposely removed from the statutes in 2002.

U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven found that Florida stands alone among the states in its express elimination of mens rea – the common-law “guilty mind” requirement – as an element of a drug offense.

This is important because it serves to put a little bit of a brake on out-of-control legislatures and prosecutors who are so eager to jail drug offenders that they ignore basic common-law protections.

The petitioner, Mackle Vincent Shelton, was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance and traffic charges. The jury was instructed that “to prove the crime of delivery of cocaine, the state must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt: that Mackle Vincent Shelton delivered a certain substance; and, that the substance was cocaine.” The state did not have to prove that he knew he was carrying or distributing cocaine or any controlled substance at all.

In granting Mr. Shelton’s petition for habeas corpus, the court found that Florida’s drug distribution law violates due process because it “regulates inherently innocent conduct.” Indeed, with no intent requirement, a Federal Express delivery person who unknowingly delivers a parcel containing a controlled substance, would be presumed a felon under Florida’s drug law.

This is a good decision.

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7 Responses to Some sanity in Florida

  1. Julian says:

    I know this is a silly question but how do you come across all of these articles? I have been wanting to do a similar site specific to my state, Florida, for some time now but not sure how to go about it. I feel it could really help activism here if people had a reference point to show exactly how it is harming our state instead of being able to say “oh well that is in (input state here). That doesn’t effect us.”

    Also, thank you for all your time, hard work, and effort. There are many of us who greatly appreciate it and share everything we find on here with everyone we can. Knowledge is power and you are empowering. Thank you again.

    Any help is greatly appreciated.

    • Ben says:

      Google Alerts go a long ways. A few specific alerts like “Florida Controlled Substances” and “Florida DEA” and “Florida Drug War” will bring new articles and blog posts to your attention as they’re published around the net.

    • Pete says:

      Yes, Google Alerts are useful.

      A newsreader is critical. With a good newsreader, you can incorporate your Google and Yahoo,etc., searches on various search words/phrases, and also check your list of blogs and newspapers, using RSS feeds. This allows you to browse hundreds of articles by headline/short blurb and catch the things that interest you.

      That’s usually my first step. I also check my twitter feed and pick up a few that way.

      Additionally, I’ve been doing this for awhile and have a number of readers who send me articles. I only actually use a fraction of them, based on what happens to hit me at the particular time, but these are amazingly helpful. You’ll occasionally see a [Thanks, Tom] at the end of the post, although I often forget to add that — I’m pretty sure they know how much I appreciate their help.

      With a newsreader, you could include the major Florida newspapers, any other Florida bloggers, and maybe even some legislative or judicial feeds. You might check out Grits for Breakfast (see my blogroll on right) for an example of a good state-based blog (he covers Texas, but not just drug policy).

    • Duncan20903 says:

      I search Google news for the keyword “marijuana”. You could add Florida but the thing about doing that is it brings up really petty stories like “a man was caught smoking pot on his home’s front porch.”

  2. Matthew Meyer says:

    I’ve also found Yahoo Pipes to be a useful way to aggregate a number of sources into a single feed. I use that, along with Google Alerts for more targeted areas of interest.

    I also sometimes use the drugpolicycentral bot (, which is a pretty raw feed of automatically harvested drug-related articles from around the world. It can get extremely repetitive with big stories, like Amy Winehouse’s death, but can also turn up gems.

    This is a really important discussion, sharing the nuts and bolts of how we access and filter our information. I’d love to hear more suggestions.

  3. vickyvampire says:

    Interesting Matthew on that raw feed,on drugs news, site. damn it just so happens,I talked to a friend from Vegas today and they new a couple involved in a that big Meth Bust, They had no clue,they were in that line of work,just a nice couple with a couple of kids, I told her well with the economy in still a crappy, hey they were making a living at least.

  4. Paul says:

    This judge’s undemocratic decision to overrule the legislature and impose his own will over the law has robbed our (sainted) prosecutors of a vital tool they need to protect our children from the scourge of illegal drugs.

    Pretty good, eh? I can write their stuff for them in my sleep!

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