From Mandatory to Discretionary: Florida's McGrill Decision on Non-Violent Offenses Should be Used as the Beacon of Change on the Nation's and Florida's Fight on the War on Drugs and its Sentencing Policies

Deborah Ductant

           “And still I see no changes; can't a brother get a little peace?  It's war on the streets and a war in the Middle East.  Instead of war on poverty,[t]hey got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.”[i]  Tupac Shakur was onto something when he wrote these lyrics, that there needs to be changes and one of those changes is the war on drugs sentencing policies.[ii]  Florida needs to change its sentencing policies in regards to non-violent drug offenders, and the fifth district court of appeals’ decision in McGrill v. State may be the beacon of change that the state needs.[iii]  This note discusses the War on Drugs on both the federal and state level, and proposes a reform where Florida allows the court to have full discretion when the court is imposing a sentencing for non-violent drug offenders, just as the court ruled in McGrill.[iv]  Most sentencing laws were passed as a result of the war on drugs.[v]

The war on drugs, after its 1971 declaration by President Nixon, have seen a vast array of policies that have changed the way the United States have handled drug offenders, especially non-violent drug offenders.[vi]  The federal policies introduced mandatory minimums, which placed constraints on the court’s ability to apply a sentence that is unique to every individual defendant and tailored to every unique case.[vii]  Florida’s battle with drug abuse was by far one of the worst in the nation, and in response to this battle Florida’s legislators created harsh drug policies, which included in it even harsher penalties.[viii]  Individuals that have committed non-violent offenses represent forty percent of Florida’s prison population and about twenty percent of that forty percent in prison is in prison for drug offenses.[ix]  Florida’s primary sentencing guide is controlled by the Criminal Punishment Code (“CPC”), which mandates the court to impose a sentence term for any defendant that has a total of forty-four points.[x]  The goal of CPC scoresheet is to provide punishment and uniformity.[xi]  However, if Florida courts are allowed to navigate away from the CPC scoresheet for non-violent drug offenders and broaden the scope of offenders that can be allowed to be sentenced to any of the alternative sentences that Florida has to offer, there will be a drastic change in the amount of money spent on prisons as well as the prison population.[xii]  The state of Florida needs to correct its wrongs in terms of its sentencing of non-violent offenders and this note proposes a change that Florida needs to begin with and allow the McGrill decision to be the beacon of change.[xiii]

[i]           Tupac Shakur, Greatest Hits (1998).
[ii]           Id.
[iii]          82 So. 3d 130 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2012).
[iv]          Id. at 133.
[v]              Hon. Pattie B. Saris, A Generational Shift for Federal Drug Sentences, 52 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1, 9 (2015).
[vi]          Thomas C. RoweFederal Narcotics Laws and the War on Drugs: Money Down a Rat Hole 87 (2006).
[vii]         Hon. Pattie B. Saris, A Generational Shift for Federal Drug Sentences, 52 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1, 6 (2015).
[viii]        Lauren Galik, The High Cost of Incarceration in Florida: Recommendation for ReformReason Found. 1, 1 (April 2015),
[ix]             Lauren Krisai, Smart on Sentencing:  Safety Valve for Florida’s Drug Trafficking OffensesThe James Madison Institute 1 (June 30, 2016),
[x]              Fla. Stat. § 921.002(3) (2017).
[xi]           Id.
[xii]            Intermediate Sanctions for Non-violent Offenders Could Produce SavingsOffice of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability 2 (March 2010),

[xiii]         Id.

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