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Changes Come To Florida's Criminal Legislation

by Marie Caldwell

Florida is known for having some of the toughest criminal laws in the country. But in late June 2019, some of Florida's most draconian criminal laws were amended when the Sunshine State's governor signed House Bill 7125 into law. Learn more about some of the reforms contained within the bill and what they can mean for criminal defendants and those spending time in prison.

What Changes are Coming to Florida's Criminal Laws?

House Bill 7125 is a package of multiple criminal reforms, the result of a heated back-and-forth among Democratic and Republican state legislators. Just some of the changes codified into law by HB 7125 include the following: 

  • An increase in the statutory threshold for felony theft charges from $300 to $750
  • Greater leeway for judges to sentence non-violent drug offenders or other non-violent offenders to suspended sentences or probation (instead of jail time)
  • "Good behavior" release of prison inmates who have served a certain portion of their sentence; 
  • Removal of restrictions on occupational licenses, allowing Floridians with a prior conviction to obtain an occupational license even with this on their record;
  • Improved and better-publicized services and resources for victims of crime
  • Limits on driver's license suspensions unless the criminal conviction directly relates to driving (like a DWI or reckless driving conviction).

Some experts indicate that this comprehensive bill is the biggest reform Florida's criminal justice laws have seen in decades. Despite this, the bill enjoyed bipartisan support and was signed into law by the state's governor (with no changes).

What Does This Mean for Criminal Defendants in Florida? 

For those facing pending criminal charges in a Florida court, these charging and sentencing reforms could reduce the amount of jail time you're required to serve (if convicted). For example, if you're being charged with a nonviolent drug offense, you may be eligible for probation or early release if convicted; if you're being charged with stealing something valued at $500, you'll be charged with misdemeanor theft instead of felony theft. 

For those who have already been convicted and sentenced, it's possible that these reforms can have a direct impact. Depending on the terms of your sentence and the specifics of the crime(s) of which you were convicted, you may be eligible for early release or a probationary release if you have enough good time credits. If you're not sure how this legislation will affect you, contact your attorney or appointed public defender for more information.

For more information on criminal law, contact a criminal law attorney.