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[OPINION]: Central Florida’s Regressive Prosecutor

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In 2016, Central Florida elected Aramis Ayala as Florida’s first African-American State Attorney. Given her background and the backing of the George Soros funded PAC, Florida Safety & Justice, she was expected to be, and portrayed herself as, a progressive-minded prosecutordedicated to improving the criminal justice system.

Yet, while other progressive-minded prosecutors have embraced “smart justice” policies such as decriminalization, problem-solving courts, and mandatory-minimum sentencing reform, Ms. Ayala has proven to be anything but progressive and, in many respects, has adopted regressive policies.

Whereas today’s headlines are replete with stories about prosecutors nationwide foregoing low-level drug and marijuana prosecutions, you would be surprised to learn Ms. Ayala’s office not only prosecutes marijuana cases just as aggressively as her predecessors, she has actually reduced the availability of Pretrial Diversion (a first offender program that results in dismissal of the charges) in marijuana and other non-violent offenses.

Specifically, her office no longer allows offenders who possessed more than 50 grams of marijuana into Pretrial Diversion. Likewise, her office excludes offenders charged with cannabis cultivation from pretrial diversion – even if the “cultivation” was for personal use. Similarly, her office prosecutes possession of small amounts of cannabis concentrates (vape oil, cannabis-infused edibles, etc.) as felonies even though most other circuits will prosecute them as misdemeanors. And finally, her office now excludes concealed weapons offenses from Pretrial Diversion, something not done by her predecessors.

Pretrial Diversion Cannabis Cultivation Policy

And when it comes to the Pretrial Diversion program itself, Ms. Ayala has failed to reform the program in any meaningful way, continuing an antiquated program that costs hundreds of dollars, requires unnecessary treatment, and takes a year to complete once started.

More problematic, the misdemeanor diversion program currently has a minimum six-month backlog; meaning that even if a person is referred to diversion, they must wait six to nine months from their arrest just to start the program – never mind finish it. By comparison, most of the neighboring judicial circuits have implemented shorter, low-cost diversion programs that primarily consists of an online educational course and result in dismissal of the charges within six months of arrest.

To add insult to injury, Ms. Ayala’s office actively opposes the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s Pretrial Intervention program, which is a legislatively authorized problem-solving program that allows judges to place non-violent offenders into a substance abuse treatment program over the State Attorney’s objection and dismiss the charges upon completion.

This program is especially beneficial to offenders who are ineligible for the Pretrial Diversion program due to prior minor offenses or whom the State Attorney will not offer pretrial diversion (such as offenders charged with possessing more than 50 grams of cannabis and cannabis cultivation). Nevertheless, Ms. Ayala’s office has made it her office’s formal policy to object to any offender being placed into Pretrial Intervention and to even appeal many of those placements with the sole intention of preventing these minor offenders from having their case dismissed – something, not even her predecessor did.

Further, while both conservative and liberal activists alike have recognized that mandatory-minimum sentences are an ineffective byproduct of the failed war on drugs and are actively supporting Florida’s proposed First Step Act, Ms. Ayala has not come out in support of the bill.

And rather than empowering her prosecutors with the discretion to waive mandatory-minimum sentences involving low-level, non-violent offenders, Ms. Ayala has instead removed their discretion and requires her prosecutors to seek the mandatory-minimum sentence in all eligible cases – regardless of whether they involve actual “kingpins” as opposed to users just trying to fund their habit.

The only reprieve Ms. Ayala’s office offers from this draconian policy is to sign one-sided “substantial assistance” contracts requiring offenders to ensnare at least three others into committing “trafficking” level crimes. The result is an endless cycle of low-level, frequently opioid-addicted, offenders ensnaring other similarly addicted users in order to avoid mandatory-minimum prison terms.

So, while Ms. Ayala has publicly announced a few progressive sounding policies (most notably her now-retracted position on the death penalty), the truth is those announcements have proven to be all press release and little substance. Mostly, they are minor policy changes that would not actually impact the average non-violent offender that compromise the majority of prosecutions or address the very real problem of over-criminalization that plagues our criminal justice system.

The time is now for criminal justice reform and if Ms. Ayala wishes to improve the system and the lives of those it affects, she must look inward and implement meaningful policy reforms within her own office immediately:

  • Stop prosecuting every minor drug case;
  • Enlarge the availability of Pretrial Diversion;
  • Stop the petty opposition to Pretrial Intervention; and
  • Empower your prosecutors with the discretion to waive mandatory-minimum sentences.

Candidly, such policies are no longer considered progressive – they are just considered common sense.

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Author: Richard Hornsby

Orlando, Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer and DUI Attorney Richard Hornsby is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar and represents clients throughout Central Florida in all criminal defense and DUI defense cases.

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Florida House Democratic Leader-Designate Fentrice Driskell Announces Leadership Team

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida House Democratic Leader-Designate Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) today announced the appointment of the following Democratic Representatives to serve on the House Democratic Caucus leadership team for the 2022-24 legislative term:

  • Leader Pro Tempore: Representative Dotie Joseph (D-Miami);
  • Policy Chair: Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton);
  • Floor Leader: Representative Michael “Mike” Gottlieb (D-Davie); and
  • Whip: Representative Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland).

“The House Democratic Caucus is made up of some of the strongest, most fierce champions of the people in the entire state,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “It is an honor and great pleasure to work with these individuals in this new capacity, and all of them are prepared to lead the Caucus in the face of the challenges that lie ahead of us.”

As Leader Pro Tempore, Representative Joseph will assist the Democratic Leader in carrying out designated responsibilities and perform such Leadership responsibilities as are assigned, including stepping in for the Leader as needed.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing Representative Joseph for over 20 years. From the time we were at Georgetown Law to now, she has always been a consistent champion for justice. The issues she advocates for on behalf of all Floridians makes Representative Joseph an invaluable asset in defending Floridians against extremist Republican policies,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “I look forward to Representative Joseph’s leadership as a key member of my team over the next two years.”

In her role as the Caucus Policy Chair, Representative Skidmore will be responsible for ensuring the Caucus continues to champion legislation that positively impacts all Floridians, and will lead discussions about bills before the House at Caucus meetings.

“As the previous Policy Chair for the Caucus, I know what is needed to do this job. Appointing Representative Skidmore as Policy Chair was an easy choice,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “She stood out as a prime member in understanding policy during the last legislative term. Representative Skidmore also brings with her a wealth of experience as both a former House and Senate staffer and House member. Applying her unique skillset to this new role will benefit the Caucus and all Floridians.”

In his role as Floor Leader, Representative Gottlieb will be responsible in interpreting the House Rules, ensuring the Caucus adheres to the agreed upon rules, and working with his Republican counterpart in advocating for fair amounts of time be allotted to the Caucus in debating different pieces of legislation.

“Two things I greatly appreciate about Representative Gottlieb are his refreshing candor and strong fortitude,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “As the minority party in the Legislature, we’re aware of the challenges that lie ahead of us. What we need right now is someone who is unwavering under extreme pressure to help guide our Caucus during difficult moments. Representative Gottlieb is perfectly suited for this role.”

As Whip, Representative Hunschofsky will be responsible for keeping all Democratic Caucus members apprised of Caucus policy on any bills or issues before the House.

Representative Hunschofsky has an amazing ability to get things done,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “Not only does Representative Hunschofsky possess a wealth of knowledge due to her experience as the former mayor of Parkland, Florida, she is also a champion of many initiatives close to Floridians’ hearts, such as expanding access to quality mental health care. I know Representative Hunschofsky’s knowledge and ability will help prepare our Caucus for the challenges of the next two year.”

The Florida House Democratic Caucus will convene during Organizational Session taking place Nov. 21-22, 2022 in advance of the 2023 Legislative Session scheduled to begin on March 7, 2023.

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VIDEO: State Rep. Dianne Hart elected chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus

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ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – State Representative Dianne Hart (D-Tampa), incoming Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, talks briefly with Florida National News on the importance of the Florida Blue Florida Classic at Camping World Stadium in Orlando Saturday. The Florida Classic is an annual college football rivalry game between Bethune–Cookman University and Florida A&M University.

Hart’s Twitter Statement:

Hart’s statement: “I’m honored to have been elected as the Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.” “I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support and for trusting me to move this important caucus forward.”

During the 2021 and 2022 Legislative Sessions, Rep. Hart served on the following House committees, including Democratic Ranking Member of the Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, Judiciary Committee, Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight, Ways & Means Committee, Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee and Select Subcommittee on Authorized Gaming Activity.

Hart was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2018. She is also the CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association.

 

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Former State Rep. Bruce Antone Ready To Rejoin Florida House

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Former State Representative Bruce Antone respond to questions by CFABJ, NAACP, and the Florida Voters League panel during a candidates forum in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Former Florida State Representative Bruce Antone served 12 years (six terms) in the Florida House of Representatives and defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy during the August primary election to represent Orange County in the newly draw District 41 House seat.

CFABJ, NAACP, and Florida Voters League held a candidates forum for candidates seeking county, state and Congressional seats in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

CFABJ, NAACP, and Florida Voters League held a candidates forum for candidates seeking county, state and Congressional seats in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

Antone was among eleven candidates seeking election to county, state and Congressional seats participating in a candidate forum hosted by CFABJ, NAACP and the Florida Voters League, Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

Green Party nominee Robin Denise Harris is the only potential road block in Antone’s return to Tallahassee and faces off with him in the November general election. The District 41 House seat has an overwhelmingly Democratic voter base.

During his time in the Florida House, Antone was elected by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the 29-member Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

The general election is Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

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