Broward Family Reunites After Draconian Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws Force Parents to Spend 15 Years in Prison
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have attracted criticism for a variety of years. First, they are a classic example of how a conviction for a nonviolent crime such as drug possession can effectively ruin someone’s life; when drug crimes carry a mandatory minimum sentence, getting caught with a single dose of drugs can mean that a young person will inevitably stay in prison until he or she is old. Second, they deprive judges of freedom to impose sentences on what is fair, which necessarily involves considering all the details of the case, not simply saying that the defendant will automatically get X number of years in prison because they pleaded guilty to drug possession or because a jury found them guilty. It is not possible to grasp the extent to which harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes amount to cruel and unusual punishment, though, unless one of your family members is locked away for years because of a nonviolent crime. Dennis Green, Jr. lived that nightmare for most of his childhood; when he was eight years old, his parents received a draconian sentence for drug crimes, and it is only through years of the family’s own efforts and those of criminal justice reform advocates that the family reunited this year. Here, our Miami drug crimes defense lawyer explains how draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws tried to tear a family apart and how hope for justice and for family togetherness finally prevailed.
The Charges: Trafficking in Prescription Pills
In the summer of 2004, Dennis Green, Sr. and his fiancée Nicole Reliford had fallen on hard times. They were staying at a friend’s house in Dania Beach with their son Dennis Green, Jr., who was eight years old at the time. They were trying to save up money so the family could rent an apartment of their own. Reliford had about 200 prescription pain pills, and her friend Rosa Noriega told her she had found someone who wanted to buy them. Needing the money, Reliford decided to make the sale. On August 18, 2004, she drove, along with Green and their son, to a McDonald’s in Hollywood where a buyer had agreed to meet them. The buyer turned out to be a police informant, the deal turned out to be a sting operation, and as soon as the drug deal was finished, police appeared from all directions, with lights flashing and guns pointed.
Years later, Reliford told the Sun Sentinel that she knew it was against the law to sell the pills and that she only did it out of financial desperation. “I was raised better than that,” she said. By all accounts, though, the punishment was grossly out of proportion to the crime.
The Mandatory Minimum Sentence: 25 Years in Prison
In 2004, the phrase “opioid epidemic” did not exist. The shady strip mall pain clinics for which Florida would become notorious were in their infancy. Drug courts that focus on addiction treatment were a thing of the distant future. The quantity of drugs that Reliford and Green sold would be charged today as possession and selling, but the laws of 2004 counted it as a trafficking charge. In 2004, a drug trafficking conviction carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, and in 2005, Green and Reliford began serving their interminable sentences in prisons that were less than a mile apart. Rosa Noriega, the friend who connected them to the buyer, received the same sentence.
Justice at Long Last: The Defendants Get Their Sentences Reduced
The younger Dennis Green moved in with his aunt and grandmother in Miami-Dade County. The memory his parents carried of him was of an eight-year-old boy playing with a toy in the back seat of the car until the police sirens and the guns surrounded him. His parents never gave up hope of reuniting their family. Green and Reliford both appealed their sentences. They contacted the State Attorney’s office about reducing their draconian sentences. The Innocence Project provided legal representation for them while they were incarcerated.
In July 2020, Green, Reliford, and Noriega were among 16 defendants released early from 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that today would receive a lesser penalty. For the first time since he was a child, Dennis Green, Jr. went home with both of his parents.
Let Us Help You Today
Some of the laws about drug crimes are more humane than the ones that were on the books in 2004, but the efforts of your Miami drug crimes lawyer could mean the difference between incarceration and freedom. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo for assistance with your case.