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Report finds coercion, rights violations in drug cases

Florida is one of four states that the American Civil Liberties Union focused on in a report that found people serving long sentences for possessing only small amounts of a drug. According to the ACLU, a significant amount of time and resources are put toward detaining and imprisoning people for low-level drug use. In 2015, almost half the arrests were for marijuana use. Louisiana, Texas and New York were the other states the report focused on, but the problem is in many states.

According to the report, police officers who have to make quotas may target drug users because these cases are easier to pursue. There were many reports of law enforcement conducting searches and seizures that may not have been legal or failing to respect the rights of the people they detained. Prosecutors avoid trials by pressuring suspects with the strongest charges so that they will accept a plea bargain. People then end up going to prison for possessing small amounts of drugs.

People who are charged with drug felonies may struggle afterward to find jobs or a place to live if a conviction is obtained. It can affect people's eligibility for financial aid. The ACLU points out that after decades of enforcing drug laws, the rate of drug use has not dropped. It recommends decriminalizing possession and shifting the focus to prevention and harm reduction.

People who have been charged with drug crimes and who feel their rights may have been violated might want to discuss this with an attorney. These violations can range from searching without a warrant or permission to failing to explain a person's rights to various forms of coercion or even physical violence. Cases like these may be dismissed altogether. People who are considering a plea bargain should discuss the implications with their attorney and make sure they understand them.

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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