News Release ~ 12/06/2011

Florida Supreme Court Hears Argument on State’s Strict Liability Felony Drug Law

Washington, DC (December 6, 2011) – This morning, the justices of the Florida Supreme Court expressed considerable skepticism for whether a person can be found guilty for unknowingly possessing an illegal drug. The case is State of Florida v. Luke Jarrod Adkins, et al., No. SC11-1878, a consolidated appeal by the State of Florida, certified directly to the Florida Supreme Court. Circuit Judge Brownell below had dismissed 42 drug possession charges on a finding that Florida’s felony drug law is “facially unconstitutional.”

NACDL filed a joint amicus curiae brief to the Florida Supreme Court in this case, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Libertarian Law Council, and 25 law professors from across the United States. Amici argue that Florida’s strict liability felony drug law runs afoul of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is inconsistent with centuries of common law.

The dismissal of charges that gave rise to today’s oral argument in Adkins came in the aftermath of the July 27, 2011, order of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections v. Shelton declaring 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.

In today’s argument in Adkins, the attorney for the State of Florida concluded her remarks with a final appeal to the justices to appreciate the importance of this statutory “tool” provided by the legislature in the context of drug offenses because “this is a war.”

“Of course, there is no drug war exception to the constitutional guarantee of due process, nor should there be,” explained NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. “And there can be no due process under Florida’s felony drug statute so long as its premise remains that an accused is presumed guilty until proven innocent. That approach poses a grave and unprecedented threat to liberty.”

An archived webcast of today’s oral argument in State v. Adkins et al. should be available shortly here.

NACDL’s joint amicus brief in Adkins is available here.

Contact: Ivan Dominguez, Deputy Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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