Former State Prosecutor
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Drug charges are some of the most common criminal offenses in Florida. The state has been known to have high addiction rates and problems with prescription medication being abused or used illegally. However, the Sunshine State now has some of the harshest and most severe penalties for drug offenses.
At the height of the drug wave in the 1980s, the state began to pass tough drug possession laws in an attempt to control the flow of drugs in and out of the state. Because of this tightening of the laws, even possession charges could have life-changing consequences.
If you have been arrested for a drug offense, it is important to understand the charges you face. Drug arrests could lead to jail or prison time, expensive fines and the burden of a criminal record. Contact a St. Petersburg drug offense attorney at Morris Law Firm, P.A..
Melinda Morris, managing partner of Morris Law Firm, P.A., is an experienced criminal defense lawyer and former state prosecutor. As a prosecutor in Pinellas County, she was responsible for prosecuting a range of very serious drug offenses, from investigation through trial. As a drug lawyer, this inside knowledge is of critical importance and can benefit the defense of your case.
Morris Law Firm, P.A. is passionate about fighting for the rights of clients throughout Pinellas County and the surrounding areas, including Hillsborough County, Sarasota County and Manatee County. Call (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free case evaluation about your alleged drug offense.
In Florida, a person may not sell, manufacture, or deliver, or possess with intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver, a controlled substance, according to Florida Statutes Annotated § 893.13. Some illegal or controlled substances that could lead to an arrest include:
Possession of prescription painkillers or stimulants without a prescription also could lead to criminal charges. For example, if a person has an out-of-date prescription or he or she does not have one from a valid source, having a certain narcotic could be a criminal offense. Some painkillers or stimulants that cannot be possessed without a prescription include:
There are various drug offenses that are prosecuted in Florida courts and federal court. Charges for drug offenses can be determined by the amount of drug, how the illegal substance was used or packaged, whether the person was armed and if the individual is charged in state or federal court. Charges also can depend on the type of drug involved in the offense.
According to Florida Statutes § 893.13, some of the drug charges in Florida could include:
In Florida, possession of an illegal or controlled substance in most circumstances is a felony, in both state and federal court. An exception to this rule is possession of a minimal amount of marijuana, which is a misdemeanor. Some possession charges include:
To be convicted for possession of an illegal or controlled substance, the prosecuting attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person either actually or constructively possessed an illegal substance, and that he or she knew the substance was illegal.
Actual possession means that a person physically possessed the illegal substance in his or her hand or carried it on his or her person.Constructive possession means a person had the illegal substance in such close proximity that it is considered to be under that person’s dominion or control.
Everyone arrested for possession of cocaine or possession of marijuana or other illegal and controlled substance should know that merely being in close proximity of cocaine, marijuana or other illegal substance without more evidence is not sufficient to prove that a person possessed any one of those items.
The sale of illegal narcotics and marijuana also are serious crimes with harsh penalties. Some of the offenses and the corresponding charges include:
The term “trafficking” often refers to large scale operations relating to the manufacturing, transportation and sale of narcotics. This criminal offense can happen across state or national borders or throughout the state itself. It is one of the most heavily prosecuted drug offenses in Florida.
In St. Petersburg, drug offenses are aggressively prosecuted in state and federal court. The state is well aware of the large number of drug offenses committed on a daily basis. They also are aware of the residual crimes that occur, due in large part to the drug trade in Florida. Having an experienced attorney could be beneficial when dealing with these serious charges.
As with drug charges, the severity of the punishment for offenses differ based on a variety of factors. Punishments can range from relatively minor sanctions, such as those associated with the mere possession of an illegal substance, to severe sanctions mandated by law for offenses like trafficking.
If you are convicted of a state drug crime, the penalty will depend upon the charge.Some of the possible punishments could include:
Additionally, being convicted of a drug charge could mean probation, community control or curfew. It also could mean being required to attend substance-abuse treatment, be subjected to random drug testing and being required to perform community service.
Having a drug conviction, no matter the offense, could have a negative affect on your employment or military service status. It also could have a seriousi impact on a person when he or she is applying for financial aid or applying to a higher education institute. A permanent criminal record can be a serious burden that can haunt a person for the rest of his or her life.
A conviction for a felony drug offense will result in the loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote, own a firearm and hold certain public offices. People should be aware that entering what is seemingly a simple plea with limited penalties can cause severe immigration consequences, such as deportation.
The best defense to a drug possession, drug sale or drug trafficking charge is challenging how the evidence was obtained by the police. Law enforcement authorities and prosecuting attorneys build their possession, sale and trafficking cases based on evidence obtained through search and seizures.
Law enforcement must comply with the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and well-established search and seizure laws to legally obtain evidence.Evidence obtained by an illegal search and seizure, which violate an individual's rights, is considered inadmissible and will be suppressed.
One of the most common examples of how law enforcement authorities violate an individual's rights is obtaining an involuntary consent to search an automobile or home. Citizens have the right to refuse a search of their property. Make the police get a warrant. If the police threaten you in any way to get your consent, it is not voluntary and the search is illegal. Any drugs found as a result of an illegal search likely would be inadmissible.
Additionally, a recent United States Supreme Court ruling also restricts police use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops. In Dennys Rodriguez v. United States, an alleged offender had to wait more than 20 minutes before police backup arrived and a drug-sniffing dog alerted police to a bag of more than 50 grams of methamphetamine—despite the alleged offender declining to agree to such a search. In this case, the Court ruled that “a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures” in the Fourth Amendment.
Morris Law Firm, P.A. is well-versed in challenging illegal searches and seizures by filing motions to suppress. Our attorney Melinda Morris has vast experience in representing clients as a drug defense lawyer. If the judge grants the motion to suppress, the evidence is inadmissible against you, the prosecutor likely cannot proceed and we could win your case.
Another defense that could potentially apply is entrapment. A person is entrapped if he or she is induced or encouraged to engage in criminal conduct, such as drug trafficking. To utilize an entrapment defense, a person must be able to prove he or she engaged in the trafficking as a result of the inducement, that inducement came from a law enforcement official or his agent and that he or she was not ready to commit the crime.
Drug court programs are voluntary programs that offer treatment as an alternative to prison and jail for non-violent, substance abusing offenders. Drug courts combine criminal justice and medical treatment models to deal with drug crimes. They recognize that imprisonment is sometimes not the most effective method for breaking the cycle of drug addiction and related crime, especially for first-time and low-level offenders.
Drug courts stress a cooperative approach between the prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, defendant and court, and they prefer rehabilitation over jail. Successful completion of drug court programs can often result in reduced charges or sentences, or dismissal of charges altogether.
Even though your criminal charges may be dismissed, it does not mean they have been sealed. Sealing your criminal record in Florida is a separate process that may be initiated after you have completed a drug court program.
Will I be able to seal or expunge my record if I am found guilty?
No. A person cannot seal or expunge his or her record if he or she has been adjudicated guilty of a criminal offense in Florida.
How do I prove that the drugs the police found weren’t mine?
If a person has been charged with constructive possession of a controlled substance in Florida, this is a much more difficult crime for prosecutors to prove. Alleged offenders in these cases will want to have their attorneys either attempt to speak to the parties who actually owned the drugs and convince them to confess or establish enough reasonable doubt in the minds of the judge or jurors that the drugs could have belonged to someone else.
What is the difference between state and federal drug charges?
Most criminal charges relating to controlled substances are filed by state or local agencies and heard in those courts. However, if an alleged offender is arrested on federal property, by a federal agent, or with a substantial amount of drugs, then his or her case may be handled by a federal prosecutor in a federal court. Generally, federal charges carry much more serious penalties and prosecutors at that level have far greater resources to seek convictions.
How can I be charged with trafficking if I was not arrested while attempting to sell a drug?
Trafficking is a criminal charge that has more to do with the amount of a controlled substance that an alleged offender is caught with. This means that the offense has nothing to do with the sale or movement of an illegal drug.
Do I really need a lawyer if I have only been charged with a misdemeanor?
You should hire an attorney for any charge, including a misdemeanor. Any type of criminal offense involving a controlled substance can have serious long-term consequences. Even if a person has not been charged with a felony offense, a conviction for a misdemeanor will still appear on a criminal record and impact that person’s ability to obtain employment, housing, or financial aid.
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Once you have been charged with a drug crime, you will be up against jail time, fines, probation and other life-altering legal consequences if you are convicted. It is important to begin building a strong defense early on in your case. Contact Morris Law Firm, P.A. at (727) 388-4736 for strong and confident legal representation. No matter the severity of the charges, each client receives the full benefit of Melinda Morris' experience and dedication.
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