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The High Cost Of Victimless Crimes

Does the punishment fit the crime if the crime is victimless? Just ask Michael Edwards who is serving an 80 year sentence for selling $850 worth of cocaine or any one of the millions of people doing time for victimless crimes.

A victimless crime is a crime that has no victim; with the possible exception of the person who committed the “crime.” Some of the most obvious examples of victimless crimes are illegal drugs and sex crimes like prostitution. There are also “public order” offenses including immigration, weapons charges, public drunkenness, indecent exposure, etc.

Over 80% of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated for victimless crimes – approximately 750,000 individuals, as well as 3 million other people on parole or probation. About 4 million people are arrested each year for victimless crimes. Out of a prison population of 100,500 in Florida, over 80,000 people are behind bars for victimless crimes.

In 2009, the federal prison population consisted of:

  • Drugs 50.7%
  • Public order 35.0%,
  • Violent 7.9%
  • Property 5.8%
  • Other .7%

In 1993, Michael Edwards was arrested and charged with selling $850 worth of cocaine in Ft. Myers, Florida. He was 31 years old and had a prior drug record.

Two years earlier, Edwards had been arrested for cocaine trafficking, drug possession and battery on a law enforcement officer. He pleaded guilty to the charges, but insisted he was innocent of battery. A few months later, he was picked up again for cocaine.

His freedom came to an end on October 12, 1993 when he was arrested one more time for cocaine trafficking. His “girlfriend” turned out to be an informant for a narcotics task force and was wearing a wire during a drug transaction. There were no weapons at the scene. No one was hurt. But the prosecution threw the book at him.

Edwards passed up a plea deal of 15 years. A jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to two 30-year sentences back-to-back. His release date is Christmas Day 2044. He will be 81 years old.

Not all cases are this severe but Edwards’ story illustrates how flawed victimless crime laws are.


Mandatory minimum sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s play an important role in filling up prisons with people convicted of victimless crimes. And it all can be traced back to the “three strikes” bills adopted by states in the 1980’s. These laws require courts to hand down mandatory and extended periods of incarceration to people convicted of felonies on three or more occasions. It can even include minor crimes like shoplifting.


Taxpayers are the real victims of these crimes. State correctional spending has quadrupled in the last twenty years and now totals $52 billion a year. Spending on corrections is the second fastest growth area of state budgets after Medicaid. California spends an average of $47,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate in a state prison.

The state of Florida spends $19,500 a year for each prisoner. The cost to house Michael Edwards until his release date in 2044 is $642,000. The total cost for Florida to incarcerate people for drug offenses in 2011 was $300 million.


Many people view drug use as a “victimless crime” but the government sees it as a direct contributor to violent crime. The federal government is leading a well- financed war against drugs that measures success by the number of arrests made and the size of drug busts. Drug charges are vigorously pursued at both the state and federal level, so you should never underestimate the seriousness of a drug charge. Most states have minimum sentencing guidelines that include prison time for drug possessions and trafficking, and Florida is no exception.

Cocaine possession – 3rd degree felony; Possession of 28 g. is trafficking (1st degree felony)

Cocaine sale 2nd degree felony (penalties more severe near school)

Cocaine trafficking – 28-200 g.: $50,000 and 3 yrs.; 200-400 g.: $100,000 and 7 yrs.; 400 g.-150 kg.: 15 yrs. and $250,000; Over 150 kg.: 1st degree felony with life imprisonment.

Even a simple marijuana possession charge can result in a criminal record that can alter your life. If the quantity is big enough, you may find yourself in prison.

Victimless crimes have many victims – the perpetrator, the children, family and the taxpayer, too. Do not become another Michael Edwards. Fight back with a qualified and experienced defense attorney if you are the victim of a victimless crime.

West Palm Beach lawyer Andrew Stine focuses exclusively on criminal defense cases and has an exceptional track record of results spanning the last ten years. A former public defender and medic for the U.S. Army, Mr. Stine is known for being proactive. He represents his clients aggressively, armed with individual attention and a passionate respect for their rights to due process.

Free consultation 24/7: Call West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer Andrew D. Stine, P.A. at (561) 832-1170. Se habla español.

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