Florida: “Judicial Accountability” bills filed, would force judges off of criminal cases if racial disparity in sentencing found

Two bills were filed in the Florida legislature yesterday that would measure the sentences judges hand down in criminal cases and possibly force judges off of such cases if the racial and other disparities are too great. The bills appear to be in response to reporting done by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune which collected sentencing data on all judges in the state and claimed racial disparities in sentencing practices.

Under HB 255 and SB 382 the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) would be required to collect data on all criminal sentences handed down from 2013-2017 (House) or “the previous 5 calendar years” (Senate). Data would include:

(a) The judge who presided over each trial.
(b) The judge who presided over the sentencing phase.
(c) The circuit in which, and the specific location of the court at which, each case was heard.
(d) Each offense for which the defendant was convicted or entered a plea of nolo contendere.
(e) The range of possible sentences for each offense.
(f) The sentence imposed for each offense, including, but not limited to, any fines or jail, prison, probation, or other imposed terms.
(g) Demographic information about the defendant, including, but not limited to:

1. Age.
2. Sex.
3. Race.
4. Income.
5. Prior criminal history.

If OPPAGA’s analysis found evidence of disparity in sentencing by a judge with regard to any demographic group, the judge would be disqualified from any case involving a member of that demographic group, pursuant to s. 38.10.

Additionally, OPPAGA’s judge-by-judge reports would be delivered to the individual judge as well as the Governor, Chief Justice, and Legislative leaders.

Both bills have been filed but not yet assigned to a committee.

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