On Dec. 6, 2011, the justices of the Florida Supreme Court expressed considerable skepticism regarding whether a person can be found guilty for unknowingly possessing an illegal drug. The case is State v. Adkins, et al., Fla., No. SC11-1878, consolidated appeals by the state of Florida, certified directly to the Florida Supreme Court. In a lower court ruling, Circuit Judge Brownell 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 in this case, which was 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 the Adkins case being before the Florida Supreme Court came in the aftermath of the July 27, 2011, order of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Sheltonv. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, which declared 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 law’s fatal flaw is the lack of a criminal intent requirement, which the legislature purposely removed from the statute in 2002.
NACDL and many of the same amici also filed a brief in support of Luke Adkins in the state’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the federal litigation.
In the Florida Supreme Court 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. “This is a war,” the attorney said.
“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 as 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 the oral argument in State v. Adkins et al. is available at http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/ archives/flash/11-1878.php. NACDL’s joint amicus briefs in Adkins and the Shelton litigation are available on NACDL’s website.