A Hard Look at Our Criminal Justice System.

Author:Suskauer, Michelle R.
Position:President's page

As the first former public defender to ever lead The Florida Bar, criminal justice issues have been a priority of my presidency. On October 16-17, 2018, in Tampa, we initiated the Bar's first Criminal Justice Summit. The summit was highly thought-provoking, informative, and productive. Participants included elected state attorneys and public defenders, legislators, practitioners, sheriffs, educators, judges, participants from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the ACLU, the Innocence Project, the Pretrial Justice Institute, the James Madison Institute, and many more important agencies in Florida and the United States.

I thank past Bar President Hank Coxe of Jacksonville, who was a member of Florida's 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission, for chairing this constructive summit and Rick Courtemanche, the Bar's deputy general counsel, for their tireless efforts --this concept would not have become a reality without them. The steering committee included Judge Michael Andrews, Sixth Circuit; Deborah Brodsky, director, FSU Project on Accountable Justice; Nancy Daniels, public defender (ret.), Second Circuit; Judge David Denkin, Sarasota County; R.J. Larizza, Seventh Circuit state attorney; Martin McDonnell of Sarasota; Judge Jon Berkley Morgan, Ninth Circuit; Chelsea Murphy, Right on Crime; Daniel Norby, Executive Office of the Governor; Sal Nuzzo, James Madison Institute; Brian L. Tannebaum, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Sandy Weinberg of Tampa; and myself. There were 160 attendees. Finally, a special thank you to steering committee member Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) for his involvement in the summit and his leadership in our state on criminal justice issues.

Balanced panel discussions took place during the summit that provided unique opportunities for participants to share their experiences with the criminal justice system and provide solutions for issues that may be remedied by potential legislative reforms.


Two workshops focused on this topic --one on sentencing reform, and one on pretrial release. Our state's prisons house about 96,000 inmates with a current state budget that covers the cost for 86,000. Our state's habitual offender laws have not been meaningfully reviewed for more than two decades, and as of 2016, 63 percent of incarcerations were for nonviolent crimes, and half of new inmates had no history of violent offenses. Panelists discussed ideas on reinstating parole...

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