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House members back Moody sentencing priority

(iStock/junial)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House panel on Tuesday approved a priority of Attorney General Ashley Moody that would require the Legislature to explicitly say changes to criminal laws can reduce people’s older sentences, despite arguments that Floridians voted otherwise in November.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee advanced the proposal, with little debate or questions, following testimony from Richard Martin, the general counsel in Moody's office.

Martin said the bill was important because it would give prosecutors clarity on what changes to sentencing guidelines can affect past sentences.

"We spent a lot of time doing research on this," Martin told the House panel. "It will provide clarity, consistency and predictability for prosecutors."

The bill (PCB CJR 19-02) would have all changes to criminal statutes apply prospectively, unless clearly stated otherwise by the Legislature. That would go contrary to what voters intended when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 11 on the November ballot, according to Kara Gross, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Passage of Amendment 11 got rid of a century-old provision in the Florida Constitution that banned the Legislature from applying criminal-justice and sentencing changes retroactively, a move that opened the door for reducing the existing sentences of thousands of people.

Supporters of Amendment 11 argue the amendment can bring significant criminal-justice reform to the state. However, Moody contends that without her proposal, there would be chaos in the state's court system because thousands of people would try to appeal sentences. Therefore, she is pushing the House bill and a Senate proposal (SB 1656), sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.