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Miami judge tosses out drug cases, cites federal ruling

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch echoed the ruling of a federal judge and tossed drug cases against 39 defendants Wednesday, saying he feels a section of Florida's drug law is illegal.

At issue is a 2002 change in the state law where legislators said authorities no longer had to prove that accused drug dealers had "knowledge" that they carried illegal drugs, but defendants still could use that defense at trial.

Three weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled that the state's drug law was "draconian" because it does not differentiate between a true drug dealer and a person who is inadvertently carrying drugs without realizing it .

Scriven's ruling in an Osceola County case has sparked hundreds of requests around the state, including some in the Tampa Bay area, from defendants saying they didn't know they had drugs on them.

Though Hirsch's ruling agreed with Scriven, no one went free Wednesday.

He placed a one-week stay on his order to give prosecutors time to appeal.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement later Wednesday saying her office would appeal. She already has in the Osceola County case of Shelton v. Department of Corrections.

In his decision, Hirsch said he was bothered by the possibility that a person who accidentally carried drugs for another person could be charged with a crime. The ability to bring up the issue once the case reaches trial was not enough, he wrote in an opinion.

"It reaches beyond those who willfully do wrong, beyond those who negligently do wrong, beyond those who carelessly do wrong and includes within its wingspan those who meant no wrong," Hirsch wrote. "As the Shelton court rightly notes, the simple acts of possession are part of daily life."

Bondi promised a vigorous fight.

"This decision is flawed and it unduly hinders prosecutors' efforts to keep criminals off our streets," she said.

Her comments mirrored those of Miami-Dade police Maj. Charles Nanney, of the narcotics bureau, who later said the ruling made it harder for officers to do their jobs.

"It's encouraging drug use," Nanney said.

Hirsch acknowledged that the vast majority of people whose charges he was dismissing may have been fully aware that they carried illegal drugs. But that was no reason to ignore what he saw as disregard for civil liberties.

Miami judge tosses out drug cases, cites federal ruling 08/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 8:09am]
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