Amendment 11, Florida | 2018

Will Florida voters open the door to retroactively applying criminal justice reforms?

Daniel Nichanian

Florida’s “Savings Clause” bars the legislature from reducing people’s existing sentences. This provision is an obstacle to meaningful decarceration since it significantly limits the reach of prospective criminal justice or sentencing reforms, as the Florida Times-Union’s Andrew Pantazi has laid out. Florida is the state that goes furthest in barring new legislation from applying retroactively, according to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

On Nov. 6, Floridians will weigh in on Amendment 11, a measure to repeal the “Savings Clause” and allow reforms to apply retroactively. It needs 60 percent to pass. It was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which cites as a motivating inequity the fact that people who committed certain drug offenses before Florida modified its sentencing statutes in 2014 are serving far longer sentences than people convicted of the same offense today.

Some Florida newspapers, including the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, have endorsed the “no” vote because they worry that the National Rifle Association might push for making the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law retroactive. Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, which supports Amendment 11, argues that this concern is “valid” but “outweighed” by the positive changes the measure would enable.

“Amendment 11 would be a great vehicle for reducing mass incarceration,” Pearson told me. As examples of reforms that could be made retroactive, she mentions revising mandatory minimum guidelines, ending the suspension of driver’s licenses and the use of a “career criminal” designation, and legalizing marijuana.

Such reforms’ viability will likely be shaped by the result of Florida’s gubernatorial election, which features stark contrasts on criminal justice issues, as I profiled in August.


update (Nov. 11): Amendment 11 was adopted on Nov. 6, clearing the threshold of 60 percent. Read about the possible aftermath.