A federal judge’s ruling declared Florida’s drug law unconstitutional could throw thousands of criminal cases into jeopardy, reports the St. Petersburg Times. U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Orlando struck down the state’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, saying it violates due process because it doesn’t require that prosecutors prove that a person knew he or she possessed illegal drugs. Lawmakers amended the law in 2002, making Florida the only state in the nation to get rid of “guilty knowledge,” also called mens rea.
“Other states have rejected such a draconian and unreasonable construction of the law that would criminalize the ‘unknowing’ possession of a controlled substance,” Scriven said. St. Petersburg lawyer Jeff Brown said the ruling “has one of the largest potential effects on criminal law in the past decade. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of drug cases.” Legislators’ changes to the law eliminated the requirement that prosecutors prove that the defendant intended to commit the crime. “It takes the presumption of innocence and throws it in the garbage can,” said Tampa lawyer James Felman.