In the current legislative cycle, Florida lawmakers have significantly revised the state's capital punishment system and swiftly approved a bill permitting untrained citizens to carry firearms.
These bills have drawn attention both locally and nationally, sparking prolonged debates and widespread public interest.
However, a range of other influential criminal justice bills have garnered less attention. Below, we present five bills that stand poised to fundamentally alter Florida's criminal justice system in the coming years.
HB 667: Interviewing Children who are Victims - Passed the House with 112 votes in favor, 0 against, and passed the Senate with 36 in favor, 4 against. This bill was sponsored by Representatives Jessica Baker (R-Jacksonville) and Taylor Yarkosky (R-Montverde) and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. This law seeks to create hurdles for defense attorneys intending to conduct discovery depositions of child victims of sexual crimes.
Before a defense attorney can interview a child under 16 who has been a victim of a sex crime, a court hearing must be held to decide the appropriateness of the deposition. This would consider aspects such as the child's maturity level, the nature of the crime, the victim's relationship to the defendant, and whether the sought evidence could be obtained via other means.
The bill stipulates that, for victims of sexual crimes under 12 years old, there is an assumption that a deposition is inappropriate unless the state has filed a notice to seek capital punishment or if a forensic interview is unavailable.
In line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, applying the death penalty for raping a child is unconstitutional. However, a separate bill passed this session aims to amend that. Representative Jessica Baker, who also sponsored the death penalty challenge, put forward this bill.
Should the court allow a deposition of a child victim, a judge could impose certain conditions, such as limiting the duration of the deposition, banning specific individuals from attending, or requiring advance submission of questions.
The final version of the bill amalgamates elements from several different pieces of legislation, one of which was sponsored by Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills). Burgess claims that the legislation could protect the most vulnerable victims, as other states are moving towards a similar standard.
Groups opposing the bill, such as the Florida Public Defenders Association, argue that without the private, smaller depositions, victims may need to testify during a trial, potentially causing them further distress.
HB 605: Expunction Second Chances - Passed the House with 107 votes in favor, 0 against, and passed the Senate with 38 in favor, 0 against. Sponsored by Representatives David Smith (R-Winter Springs) and Michael Gottlieb (D-Davie).
Presently, if an individual has their criminal record expunged as a juvenile, they cannot have a criminal record expunged as an adult.
This could soon change if Governor Ron DeSantis signs this bill into law. The proposed legislation allows for the expunction of an individual's adult criminal record even if they had a crime erased as a minor, provided they were not prosecuted as an adult for that crime.
A person can request expunction if they were arrested but the charges were dropped or if prosecutors chose not to charge them, unless the dismissal occurred because they were deemed unfit to stand trial. A person can also have their record expunged if they were found not guilty.
Representative David Smith (R-Winter Springs) expressed the belief that this bill will assist with labor shortages by allowing workers to put their best foot forward.
"These are individuals who have never been convicted of a crime in Florida," Smith said. "I think that's why employers are interested in this. They like this."
This follows hot on the heels of Florida's recent juvenile criminal record expungement bill, which enables juveniles who complete diversion programs to have their records cleared as long as their charges weren't "forcible felonies," including crimes such as murder, carjacking, burglary, and other crimes involving the use or threat of physical force.
HB 365: Capital Drug Crimes - Passed the House with 85 votes in favor, 28 against, and passed the Senate with 31 in favor, 6 against. Sponsored by Representative Rachel Lora Saunders Plakon (R-Lake Mary). In Florida, individuals can face murder charges, which could lead to the death penalty if someone dies from drugs they supplied.
The state has historically stipulated that these substances should be the "direct cause" of death for a person to be charged. However, this bill reduces that requirement to being a "significant factor."
Proponents of the bill have argued that medical examiners struggle to determine when a death results from a single substance like fentanyl, especially when many individuals who overdose have other substances in their system at the time, making prosecutions challenging.
The bill also introduces a new penalty allowing for an individual to be charged with a second-degree felony if a particular drug they provided leads to a non-fatal overdose.
Some lawmakers and critics voiced concerns that the law could target the wrong individuals, including drug addicts who share drugs with others battling addiction, or young adults who share drugs without knowing their contents.
However, Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, stated that prosecutors already have the authority to charge in such cases under current law.
The bill includes a provision that states if someone seeks medical assistance for another person experiencing an overdose in "good faith," they can be granted immunity from arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia or possession of a controlled substance, as outlined in a House analysis of the bill.
SB 232: Elder Abuse - Passed the House with 115 votes in favor, 0 against, and passed the Senate with 38 in favor, 0 against. Sponsored by Senator Ileana Garcia (R-Miami). Signed by Governor DeSantis. If someone manipulates a person over 65 out of their property, they could be charged with a first-degree felony under the provisions of this bill.
This bill broadens Florida's existing law regarding elder exploitation, which currently only applies to a specific subset of the elderly, such as those suffering from mental and physical dysfunction. Presently, in most cases, an individual can only be prosecuted if they are in a position of trust, have a business relationship with the elder, are aware that the elder cannot give consent, or are their guardian.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone, regardless of their relationship, can commit exploitation if they acquire or attempt to acquire any property belonging to a person over 65 years old, regardless of the elder's mental state. A person could be charged if they obtained the property through "deception or intimidation"—including by threatening the elder with deprivation of food, clothing, shelter, or medication.
A person could also be accused of exploitation if they attempt to manipulate or intimidate the elder into altering their will or trusts to gain access to their property.
If the property is valued over $50,000, it would be considered a first-degree felony. It would be a second-degree felony if worth more than $10,000 but less than $50,000.
The legislation also offers a way for an elder in "imminent danger" of exploitation to apply for an injunction.
According to a 2021 FBI report, Florida was ranked second in the nation for fraud victims over 60. The FBI estimates that approximately 9,600 elderly individuals in Florida were victims of fraud, with losses amounting to around $224,205,71.
HB 95: Law Enforcement Officer Accountability - Passed the House with 93 votes in favor, 17 against, and passed the Senate with 39 votes in favor, 0 against. Sponsored by Representative Wyman Duggan (R-Jacksonville). Across Florida, state attorney's offices can maintain lists of law enforcement officers with questionable credibility. These lists often include officers who have perjured themselves in court, falsified evidence, or been arrested for various crimes.
This legislation, backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, would grant officers the ability to petition for their removal from such lists.
The bill stipulates that officers have the right to be informed about their inclusion on a so-called "Brady list," and cannot be disciplined solely for being on the list. However, an agency can still discipline or remove an officer for the incident that led to their inclusion on the list.
The Brady list originated from a 1960s U.S. Supreme Court case, which determined that state attorneys must reveal exculpatory evidence to the defense, including incidents that could question an officer's credibility, according to a Senate analysis of the bill.
Under the bill, state attorneys are not required to maintain a Brady list and can decide "at their discretion" how to fulfill their obligation to disclose this information.
Officers who are notified of their inclusion on the list could ask the prosecutor to reconsider and will have the right to submit documents and evidence supporting their request.
An officer does not have to be notified of their placement on the list if the information relates to a criminal conviction or a concluded internal affairs complaint, both of which could be used to impeach a witness.
Representative Wyman Duggan of Jacksonville sponsored the legislation. Jacksonville's police union has advocated for changes to the management of the list, according to First Coast News. In that judicial circuit, there were 90 officers on the list at the beginning of the year, with reasons for inclusion ranging from DUIs and domestic battery to evidence tampering and more.
House Bill 115 "Criminal Rehabilitation" Would Revise Florida's Criminal Punishment Code - A legislative bill aimed at helping rehabilitate Florida convicts and reduce their requisite time before parole eligibility has been proposed by Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Hillsborough) in anticipation of the 2023 legislative session.
House Bill 115, titled "Criminal Rehabilitation," intends to revise state regulations to modify Florida's Criminal Punishment Code. The bill's text specifically proposes changes to state legislation to reshape the definitions within the criminal justice system's legal framework.
Data from the Florida Department of Corrections' monthly statistics revealed a prison population of 82,892 individuals in Florida as of November 2022. There were another 140,287 on probation, while close to 5,500 were undergoing post-prison supervision.
Among these individuals, 662 inmates re-incarcerated due to probation infringements, while 85 were neither on probation nor in prison but returned nonetheless. The reasons for re-incarceration spanned new criminal activities and what the state terms as technical revocations.
The proposed bill from Representative Hart stands to affect almost all of these people in terms of the duration they are expected to spend in prison.
The present legislation suggests that the Legislature, in the establishment of criminal penalties and sentences, utilizes its power and duty "to make the best use of state prisons so that violent criminal offenders are appropriately incarcerated."
The bill proposed by Hart seeks to alter the meaning of this segment. If accepted, it will redirect the Legislature's duty to "make the best use of state prisons so that criminal offenders are appropriately punished and rehabilitated."
To achieve this, the bill contains provisions to redefine the "primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender." This would change to "the dual purposes of sentencing in the criminal justice system are to punish the offender and rehabilitate the offender," with the goal of facilitating their reintegration into society after serving their sentences.
The drafted legislation indicates the possibility of reducing the sentence time due to "outstanding deed, gain-time, good behavior time, and rehabilitation credits." In contrast, under existing laws, sentence reduction is only possible through the application of "incentive and meritorious gain-time."
If enacted, the law would enable defendants to serve less than 65% of their term, down from the present 85%, should they earn these credits through rehabilitation. These credits would be accounted for in determining a tentative release date based on maximum sentence expiration, although the credits can also be withdrawn to delay release.
The proposed rehabilitation system would be instituted "as a means of encouraging satisfactory behavior and developing character traits necessary for successful reentry," with the FDC granting good behavior time at a rate of 10 days for each month of a sentence, should the credits be merited.
The proposed legislation stipulates that good behavior time in a partial month "shall be prorated" based on a 30-day period. In the event of an inmate "working diligently, participating in training or education, using time constructively, or engaging in other positive activities, the department may grant rehabilitation credits" towards their eligibility for the credits.
The bill further affords inmates the opportunity to earn an additional 60 days of rehabilitation credit upon successful completion of programs like "high school equivalency diplomas, college degrees, vocational certificates, drug treatment programs, mental health treatment programs, life skills programs, behavioral modification programs, reentry programs, or any equivalent rehabilitative program." It also allows for the granting of 5 extra days of rehabilitation credits for successful completion of any other department-approved programs, including inmate-developed programs, or a passing grade in each online or in-person educational course." The credits earned in this way would also be retroactive.
The legislation stipulates that an inmate found guilty of breaking the law while in custody may lose their good behavior time, subject to due process.