Q&A with State Attorney, 7th Judicial Circuit, R.J. Larizza

Q: Can you give us an update on some of the highlights of the recently concluded 2019 legislative session as pertains to criminal justice?
A: There were a number of changes enacted this session. First, there were changes to the grand theft/felony theft statute, which hasn’t been modified in decades. Previously, the threshold was $300 in stolen goods to be classified as grand theft. The legislature increased this to $750, to try to make it equivalent today to the old amount. The law does allow us to aggregate, so if we can prove that there is an ongoing theft ring of smaller thefts under the felony threshold, we can add them up to charge with grand theft.

Q: What were the changes with suspended driver’s licenses?
A: Previously, if a driver had three or more driving while license suspended citations, prosecutors had the discretion to charge them with a felony. Now, these would all be considered misdemeanors, but with a minimum of 10 days in jail. The legislature also did away with some driver’s license suspensions for misdemeanors, specifically for some non-driving related offenses. I have dedicated staff to GLAD, which stands for Getting your License Again to Drive. Many people lose their license by failing to pay a fine because they don’t have the money. With GLAD, someone in this situation could come to us and we will set up a payment plan, help them get their license back and drop the charges.

Q: What were some other changes?
A: Juvenile “direct file” was repealed. We used to have to charge juveniles as adults for certain offenses. Now, it is discretionary and up to the State Attorney. 

Minimum mandatory sentences also saw some changes, especially as pertains to minimum prison time for drug possession and trafficking. The idea is to make the sentences more equitable, while still striking a balance with public safety. 

The inmate re-entry system was updated to authorize studies of programs to better prepare prisoners before their release. The new system allows them to transition back to the community earlier in their sentences to allow them to find jobs and also provide for aftercare, all in an effort to make the reentry to society more successful after the prisoner’s sentence has been completed.

Q: Do you have any other interesting updates to share?
A: In an effort to provide transparency to the public about the criminal justice system, as well as allow the legislature to review and improve the system, data transparency was addressed. Statistical information will soon be available to the public from the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Clerks of Court, the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. It will likely take some time to define the data needed and collect it to make sure it is accurate and consistent.