Tomorrow we will celebrate Martin Luther King Day. It's a national holiday designated to honoring a great man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace, justice, and above all - equality.
But as I get tomorrow off of court because of this man's holiday, I get a little time to reflect on our society and whether we have taken to heart the teachings of Dr. King.
When it comes to drug trafficking laws in Florida, I can sadly say that those idiots in the Florida legislature who drafted our current mandatory minimum sentencing scheme for drug trafficking know nothing of Dr. King's teachings.
Dr. King was a humanitarian, first and foremost. Some of his most famous words came from his "I Have A Dream" speech, in which he uttered the timeless phrase, where he wishes that one day his children will grow up in a world where they will be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
I can't help but think how those words have fallen on deaf ears when it comes to lawmakers in Florida. In essence, our current mandatory minimum sentencing system for drug trafficking crimes takes all of the humanity out of the criminal justice system. What it does is it blindly punishes the crime without considering the facts, the circumstances, and above all - the accused person.
Some mandatory minimums are for violent crimes. Perhaps those should remain in place. But who - other than those morons up in Tallahassee - thinks that a mandatory 25-year sentence for trafficking in oxycodone is fair and just?
Trafficking in Florida does not require proof of a person's intent to sell or transport drugs. It only requires proof of possession of a certain amount. Above that threshhold amount and you have trafficking. ALL trafficking offenses in Florida carry mandatory prison time.
I single out oxycodone trafficking because (1) oxycodone is incredibly addictive; and (2) it carries the most mandatory time.
Many people are hopelessly addicted to oxycodone. These people are our friends, our neighbors, and our family members. These are good people who are ordinarily law-abiding, but they will serve a quarter-century in prison for possessing pills. They are being punished for their sickness with a blanket scheme for sentencing that considers the charge and only the charge. In a metaphorical sense, the punishment sees only the crime itself without considering the person and the circumstances of their case. It is the same thing as prejudging another human being based on the color of their skin without considering the content of their character.
By our current sentencing laws, a multiple felon who deals drugs to kids will serve as much time as a drug addict who is merely stockpiling pills to support their own habit. Is that fair? Are all accused people equal in the eyes of the law?
No. Our justice system recognizes that not all offenders are created equally. Why do first-time offenders get diversion or probation whereas repeat offenders get jail or prison time? Because our system of justice likes to give people with no prior criminal history a second chance.
Ok...that's great. So why not employ that same logic when it comes to trafficking?
I wish I had an answer, but all I have is this little blog in which to vent my frustrations.
Hopefully, in my lifetime, I will see a legislature that enacts criminal sentencing that permits judges to use their discretion, and permits for sentencing that will help the offender rather than blindly impose punishment.
Eric Matheny can be reached at (305) 542-9491.