A county court in Florida recently certified an important issue to the Second District Court of Appeal regarding excessive fines as a punishment for solicitation of prostitution.
In the case, the defendant was charged by Information with Solicitation of Prostitution, under Florida Statute 796.07(2). Solicitation for Prostitution is a second degree misdemeanor in the State of Florida, and second degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to 60 days in county jail, and a fine of up to $500, except where a specific statute allows for a higher fine. In the case of solicitation for prostitution, as of January 1, 2013, the fine is mandated by statute to be $5,000 instead of $500 for a first offense. The Defendant filed a “Motion to Find Statute Unconstitutional,” arguing that the fine was grossly disproportion to the offense, and therefore excessive under (1) the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” and (2) under Article I, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution, which provides that: “Excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, attainder, forfeiture of estate, indefinite imprisonment, and unreasonable detention of witnesses are forbidden.”
The court initially reserved jurisdiction on deciding the defendant’s motion. The defendant then entered a plea of nolo contendere (or “no contest”) and was sentenced to, among other things, six months of probation, twenty-five hours of community service, and a $5,000 fine. After sentencing the defendant, the court ruled on the defendant’s “Motion to Find Statute Unconstitutional.”
The court ultimately agreed with the defendant, granted the defendant’s motion, and struck the $5,000 fine, finding that a fine may be considered unconstitutional if it is so unreasonably excessive that it shocks the conscience of a reasonable person. The court then certified the question to the Second District Court of Appeal as a matter of great public importance, asking the Appellate Court to decide if a $5,000 fine for a first violation of solicitation of prostitution is unconstitutionally excessive. It will be interesting to see if and how the 2nd DCA rules on this question.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.