High Court Upholds Florida’s Controversial Law Prosecuting Drug Mules By BRENT KALLESTAD

Posted: July 23, 2012 in News and politics

A Florida law that requires people caught with illegal drugs in their possession to prove their innocence has been upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Unlike virtually every other state in a country where it is up to a prosecutor to prove guilt, the 2002 Florida law puts the burden on the person caught with an illegal drug.

For example, if someone wraps a package of cocaine and asks someone else to deliver it to a friend across town and that person gets nabbed, he or she automatically is in a jam under the Florida law.

“What will become of the innocent?” said Justice James Perry, who disagreed with his colleagues. “Under the majority’s decision and the above examples, the innocent will, from the start, be presumed guilty.”

The court ruled 5-2 Thursday that any defendant is presumed to have known that what was inside the package was something illegal. Virtually every other state requires prosecutors to convince jurors that the defendant knew the contents were illegal.

The state still must be able to prove that the defendant knows he or she was in possession of something, but it doesn’t have to prove that it was an illegal substance.

The decision reversed a Manatee County judge’s decision that struck down the 2002 law. Circuit Judge Scott Brownell ruled that it violates due process.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady said the law does not violate due process. Canady, who wrote the majority opinion, left little doubt where he stood during oral arguments on the case in December.

“Isn’t the reality here that these drugs that are illicit are valuable and the people who own them don’t just go casting them about at random?” Canady said then.

Brownell’s decision, however, was similar to an earlier ruling by a federal judge, which also is being appealed. If the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta should disagree with the Florida decision, the issue likely will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the Florida Supreme Court had ruled to strike down the controversial law, it could have led to hundreds of prison inmates being set free.

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.

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