Florida: Senate version of “Judicial Accountability” bill would no longer force judges off of criminal cases if racial disparity in sentencing found

The Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice committee earlier today held a hearing on SB 382 which would require the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) collect data on all criminal sentences handed down over the previous 5 calendar years to determine whether or not judges were issuing disparate sentences based on race or other demographic criteria. The reports would have to be posted online.

The committee-approved version of the bill makes two changes via amendment.

  1. Judges who are found to have issued disparate sentences would not be forced to automatically recuse/disqualify in cases involving a member of a particular demographic group.
  2. The demographic data collect would be different.
Original Amended
Age Date of Birth
Sex Sex
Race Race and ethnicity
Income Court-appointed or private counsel
Prior criminal history Scoresheet

Scoresheet here appears to refer to this scoresheet used to assist in determining sentences.

During the hearing (video here starting at 43:00) the author indicated this was not a bill to attack judges but only to collect data. Others voiced concerns that, given the high percentage of plea bargains (98% in at least one area in the state), that the data would not reflect the judge’s sentencing but the plea agreements reached between the prosecutors and defendants.

As a result of these concerns, the possibility of coming up with some form of compromise bill was brought up. In the end, SB 382 was postponed in the committee.