The sale of a controlled substance may be punished harshly. However, there may be mitigating circumstances in which a downward departure for a sentence in a Broward County drug crime case is justified under Florida Statute section 921.0026(2)(d). In a recent drug crime case, a defendant appealed the sentences imposed by the court for several counts, including a count for sale of a controlled substance, carfentanil, within 1,000 feet of a convenience business. He asked for a downward departure for his sentence under Florida Statute section 921.0026(2)(d) on the grounds that he needed particular treatment for mental disorders that weren’t related to substance abuse and that he was amenable to treatment. He was denied on the basis that he didn’t legally qualify for this downward departure.
At his sentencing, an expert with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology evaluated the defendant. He reviewed the probable cause affidavit and discovery materials and talked to his mother. He administered two psychological tests to the defendant.
The tests showed that the defendant suffered from PTSD and mental illnesses. The expert testified that the defendant exhibited mental illnesses, and he opined that the defendant had gone through traumatic experiences that caused the PTSD. The defendant calmed himself with marijuana and alcohol. The dual-diagnosis program would treat both the drug abuse and the mental illness. However, the expert also testified that the medication that he’d get in prison wouldn’t address his mental illness or trauma. He was in denial and minimized traumatic events. The doctor recognized that there was a need for a punishment and said that there should be a county jail sentence, followed by immediate admission to probation and a dual-diagnosis program.
During his cross-exam, he explained that many people with PTSD suppress their emotions, and often people with serious mental illnesses don’t seem to have them. The defendant’s mother testified about his background as well.
The prosecution argued that he didn’t qualify and that there wasn’t much evidence of depression. There wasn’t an ongoing prior history or any observations that he seemed to be showing depression or a lack of motivation.
The defense attorney claimed that it wasn’t a matter only of depression. A trained psychologist with 35 years of experience had diagnosed him as having a mental illness and also having PTSD. The defense attorney argued that he needed special treatment for a mental illness and PTSD unrelated to drug abuse.
The lower court ruled that even though the expert was credible, there wasn’t enough persuasive evidence that there should be a downward departure and that he required particular treatment for a mental disorder. Concurrent sentences were imposed under the Criminal Punishment Code of 108 months in prison for first-degree felonies, five years for third-degree felonies, and time served on the misdemeanor.
The appellate court explained that in order to impose a departure, the lower court must take two steps to decide whether there’s a legal basis to depart and whether the defendant has established facts for that basis by a preponderance of the evidence. When the first step is met, the lower court needs to then make a discretionary decision under a totality of the circumstances in order to decide whether to depart. Downward departures are authorized if factors or circumstances exist that reasonably justify a departure.
Under Section 921.0026(2)(d), there are mitigating circumstances if a defendant needs particular treatment for a mental illness unrelated to addiction, substance abuse, or a physical disability, and the defendant is willing to undergo the treatment. In this case, the doctor provided substantial, competent evidence that he had PTSD and a mental illness not related to addiction or substance abuse. He also testified that the treatment needed wouldn’t be available in prison.
The lower court recognized the doctor as one of the best and said that he’d helped the court for decades, yet it didn’t rely on his opinion. The appellate court reasoned that it couldn’t tell whether the lower court’s ruling was based on rejecting some of the expert’s opinions or whether there had been a legal error because it concluded that there wasn’t a reason to depart because there was proof of drug abuse. The appellate court believed that the lower court had mistakenly concluded that it didn’t have authority to get to the decision made with discretion.
The defendant argued that the first step was met, and the appellate court should reverse and remand. The prosecution didn’t present evidence that cut against the doctor’s testimony, but instead it elicited testimony that he’d never been previously diagnosed with a mental disorder and that he seemed well-groomed and healthy. Due to the uncertainty in how the lower court had arrived at its conclusion, the appellate court reversed and sent the case back to the lower court to reevaluate the evidence in order to apply the right two-step analysis.
At the Hoffman Firm, our attorneys represent people accused of drug sales in Broward County. During a consultation, our lawyer can review the charges and go over your concerns, including issues related to potential sentencing. Call The Hoffman Firm at (305) 249-0090 or (800) 223-1866, or contact us via our online form.