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Federal Drug Decision Causing Legal Headaches

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MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – It was déjà vu in Miami-Dade bond court Friday morning when Judge Milton Hirsch released all prisoners on their own recognizance that were being held on a drug possession charge.

Judge Hirsch said that he was bound by the U.S. Constitution and went against the prosecutors wishes to release people held on cocaine possession charges. One woman who was released told Judge Hirsch “Thank you,” and Hirsch replied, “Say no to drugs.”

Thursday, a similar scene played out in Miami-Dade bond court. The releases stem from a federal court ruling on Wednesday.

The ruling, by U.S. Judge Mary S. Scriven, struck down the state’s drug laws based on a 2002 change to the drug statutes. In 2002, the state legislature eliminated the “mens rea,” or “guilty mind” requirement as a part of a drug offense.

Scriven laid out a scenario that said if a student hid his cocaine in his friend’s backpack without telling him, then the owner of the backpack is guilty even if he didn’t know it was there. Scriven said the 2002 Florida law is “repugnant to the common law.”

Rory Stein, general counsel for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office, said his office is still trying to sort out what this will mean for the thousands of clients his office represents.

“At some point, the court is going to have to deal with the constitutionality of the statute the state is using to charge someone with the crime [of possession],” Stein said. “A judge is going to tackle that issue and obviously it’s going to take a defense motion to challenge the statute. It’s well-written, well-reasoned order and places that statute in legitimate question.”

But, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office took issue with the bond court judge’s decision.

“An uninterrupted line of well established precedents from both the Florida Supreme Court and the District Courts of Appeal reflects in no uncertain terms that the trial courts in this State are bound by the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court and not lower federal courts,” according to Ed Griffith of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Griffith said the very issue had been resolved in the Florida Supreme Court case, State vs. Dwyer.

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