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Supreme Court Opens the Door for States to Prosecute Illegal Immigrants, While Florida Fails to Address Issue of Inmates Serving Outdated Sentences for Drug Crimes


Unfortunately, the beginning of March has already dealt a significant blow to criminal justice, both at the federal level and here in Florida: While the U.S. Supreme Court increased the ability for states to criminally prosecute illegal immigrants over work authorization fraud, overriding existing federal law in doing so, Florida lawmakers entered the final phase of the 2020 session without hearing bills in the House or Senate that would allow judges to shorten sentences of many prisoners currently serving sentences for drug offenses that are significantly longer than those now allowed under state law.

U.S. Supreme Court Effectively Transfers Prosecution of Illegal Immigrants to States

Historically, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act deferred the issue of immigrant-related work authorization fraud to the federal government and not to the states because immigration policy in general fell under the jurisdiction of the federal government—that is, until now. In a narrow majority, with the conservative justices siding with President Trump, the Court overturned the Kansas Supreme Court in finding that states now also have the authority to prosecute the defendants for providing their employers with Social Security numbers that were not theirs. According to Justice Stephen Breyer, who authored a dissent opinion in the case, allowing prosecutions by states in these circumstances “opens a colossal loophole” in terms of turning over federal work authorization policing to the states.

Florida Fails to Pass Legislation to Providing Justice for Those Currently Serving Outdated Sentences for Drug Crimes

Florida also delivered a significant disappointment this month, albeit a surprising one, given that the subject of easing penalties for certain drug convictions in Florida had bipartisan support and voters had already approved a constitutional amendment that directed the legislature to take action on the issue in the interest of criminal justice. Still, legislators failed to hear bills in the House and Senate that would allow judges to ensure that those currently serving long, outdated sentences for certain drug crimes are brought into line with current sentencing, which is, in many cases, significantly shorter (for example, three years or less versus 15 for a minor first-time drug offense). Those who were convicted under these outdated sentences were sentenced based on the weight of the drugs involved in their crime; a practice that has since been changed.

According to media reports, a number of lawmakers simply indicated that they had given other bills priority and still needed to take the time to familiarize themselves with the specifics of the bill. In addition, for reasons that are not entirely clear, other major sentencing bills that would allow judges to adjust sentences as they are being decided if they feel they are too harsh appear to have a better chance of passing.

Part of the problem lies with how certain crimes are labeled in Florida: For example, drug “trafficking” is defined as possessing or selling above a certain amount of drugs, and historically this included a very small amount (for example, 48 pills), for a first time offender without a previous record. In fact, the legislature’s own research office found that because of the way that the law was written, most people convicted for trafficking during a certain time were actually addicts, not dealers. As a result, it triggered 25-year mandatory minimums for those convicted.

Contact West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney William Wallshein

As a former prosecutor, I have the experience and familiarity necessary to provide you with the very best in skilled defense representation, whether you are facing federal or state charges. If you or a loved one is facing charges here in Florida, contact West Palm Beach criminal attorney William Wallshein, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation to find out more.





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