Second DCA Asks Florida Supreme Court To Rule On Drug Statute’s Constitutionality

Oct 10, 2011   

On September 28, 2011, Floridas Second District Court of Appeal (“2nd DCA”) asked the Florida Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of Floridas Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, § 893.13 Fla. Stat. in the case of State v. Adkins. A copy of the 2nd DCAs opinion can be read here. As we previously reported, on July 27, 2011, Judge Mary Scriven of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida declared the law unconstitutional under the United States Constitution as a violation of due process because it eliminated mens rea as an element of felony delivery of a controlled substance thus making the law a strict liability offense.

The federal courts decision has opened the floodgates to litigation in pending drug cases in Florida and has led to uncertainty for criminal defendants for two main reasons. First, because the United States and Florida are separate sovereigns, the rulings of federal courts other than the U.S. Supreme Court are generally not binding on state courts. Second, because neither the Florida Supreme Court nor any District Court of Appeal has ruled on the constitutionality of § 893.13, the Circuit Courts of Florida (the tribunals responsible for adjudicating felony criminal cases) have no binding precedent to rely upon in determining whether § 893.13 is constitutional.

As a result, the Circuit Courts have split on the issue as to whether § 893.13 violates the 14th Amendment. In fact, as noted in the 2nd DCAs Certification Order, in certain circuits, such as the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County, conflict exists within the different felony divisions with some judges adopting Judge Scrivens opinion and declaring the statute unconstitutional while others finding the Middle District of Floridas rationale unpersuasive because the precedent relied upon by that court was distinguishable.

In certifying the question of whether § 893.13 is constitutional, the 2nd DCA stated that because it would be the only district court of appeals to have ruled on the constitutionality of the drug law, its “decision would be binding statewide and could affect literally thousands of past and present prosecutions throughout the state.” The 2nd DCA noted that while the Florida Supreme Court prefers to resolve cases after multiple district courts have issued opinions, given the volume of the cases involved and the fact that the issue has been “fully briefed and thoroughly discussed” in trial court proceedings, it would be appropriate for the Supreme Court to decide this issue.

Although the 2nd DCA certified the question to the Supreme Court as one of “great public importance” pursuant to Fla. R. App. P. 9.125, it should be noted that because the Florida Supreme Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, the Court can choose not to decide the issue under  Article V § 3 of the Florida Constitution as jurisdiction over such certified questions is not mandatory.

Fuerst Ittleman will continue to track the progress of this matter with a keen eye as its final resolution could affect all strict liability offenses. The white collar criminal defense lawyers at Fuerst Ittleman are experienced in handling even the most complex cases where clients are facing allegations of criminal actions. The attorneys of Fuerst Ittleman have defended clients in cases involving numerous general intent and strict liability offenses including money laundering violations found at 18 U.S.C. § 1957, the operation of unlicensed money transmitting businesses found at 18 U.S.C. § 1960, and violations of the FDCA under 21 U.S.C. §§ 331 and 333 as well as prosecutions of corporate officials for FDCA violations under the Park Doctrine. For more information regarding Fuerst Ittlemans white collar criminal defense practice, contact an attorney today at contact@fidjlaw.com.