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Drug Charges

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.

 

St. Petersburg Drug Charge Defense Attorney

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.


Information About Florida Drug Offenses


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What are Considered Illegal Drugs?

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:

  • Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed, pot, bud or chronic
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as Ecstasy
  • Oxycodone, such as Percocet, Endocet and Tylox
  • Methamphetamines, also known as crystal meth or molly
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid or LSD
  • Opium
  • Phencyclidine, also known as PCP
  • Psilocybin or mushrooms

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:

  • OxyContin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Vicodin
  • Xanax
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Methadone

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Florida Drug Charges

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:

  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Marijuana possession
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Drug trafficking
  • Prescription drug trafficking
  • Drug possession with the intent to sell
  • Methamphetamine trafficking

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:

Cannabis Possession < 20 grams 1st degree misdemeanor
Cannabis Possession > 20 grams 3rd degree felony
Cocaine Possession < 28 grams 3rd degree felony
MDMA Possession < 10 grams 3rd degree felony
Heroin Possession < 4 grams 3rd degree felony
LSD < 1 gram 3rd degree felony

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:

Sale of Cannabis 3rd degree felony
Sale of Cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school or church 2nd degree felony
Sale of Cocaine 2nd degree felony
Sale of Cocaine within 1,000 feet or church 1st degree felony
Sale of Cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school 1st degree felony (3 year minimum prison sentence)

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.

Trafficking in Cannabis (First-degree felony) Mandatory Minimum Sentence
In excess of 25, but less than 2,000 pounds or 300 or more cannabis plants 3 Years + $25,000 fine
2,000 pounds, but less than 10,000 pounds or 2,000 or more cannabis plants 7 Years + $50,000 fine
10,000 pounds or more or 10,000 or more cannabis plants 15 Years + $200,000 fine

Trafficking in Cocaine (First-degree felony) Mandatory Minimum Sentence
28 grams or more, but less than 200 grams 3 Years + $25,000 fine
200 grams or more, but less than 400 grams 7 Years + $100,000 fine
400 grams or more, but less than 150 kilograms 15 Years + $250,000 fine

Trafficking in Heroin (First-degree felony) Mandatory Minimum Sentence
4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams 3 Years + $50,000 fine
14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams 15 Years + $100,000 fine
28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms 25 Years + $500,000 fine

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.


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Potential Punishments

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:

  • First-degree Felony: Up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or both
  • Second-degree Felony: Up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or both
  • Third-degree Felony: Up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 or both
  • First-degree Misdemeanor: Up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both
  • Second-degree Misdemeanor: Up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500 or both

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.


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Possible Defenses to Drug Charges

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.


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Drug Court Programs

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.


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Recent Florida Drug Charges News

  • Supreme Court Rules Synthetic Drug Sellers Need to Know Substance is Illegal — In a 9-0 decision delivered on June 18, the United States Supreme Court ruled that people accused of selling synthetic drugs cannot be convicted unless it is proven that they knew the substances were prohibited by law. In authoring the opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the mental-state requirement of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) still applies when the controlled substance is an “analogue”—substances that are substantially similar in chemical structure as well as effect on humans to drugs banned under the CSA. This means that prosecutors must prove an alleged offender “knew that the substance he [or she] was distributing was ‘a controlled substance,’ even in prosecutions dealing with analogues.”
  • Florida’s Failed Drug-Test Law to Cost Taxpayers More Than $1.5 Million — Governor Rick Scott’s failed attempt to force welfare applicants and tens of thousands of state workers to submit to suspicionless drug tests will end up costing Florida taxpayers over $1.5 million in legal fees. According to the News Service of Florida, the state agreed in June to pay $600,000 to the Florida Justice Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida as well as $160,000 to a private law firm to represent the Department of Children and Families in a lawsuit over the welfare drug-testing law. In the separate case regarding drug-testing of state workers, Florida agreed to pay the ACLU $375,000 which came in addition to another $675,000 that included $180,000 for a private lawyer and $120,000 for a special master to oversee the negotiations with the ACLU. A federal appeals court ruled that the drug-testing of applicants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Four months after the bill’s passage, the New York Times reported that because the 97.4 percent of the applicants who passed the tests they were forced to pay for would be reimbursed, the law cost the state $118,140—or $45,780 more than the benefits that would have been paid out.
  • Officials Say More Emphasis Needed on Addiction Treatment, Prevention in Manatee County — Numerous officials told the Bradenton Herald in a June 4 story that there is inadequate funding for prevention and treatment for drug addiction in Manatee County. Lt. Darin Bankert of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office told the Herald that illicit narcotics like heroin were “the situation” that the agency was combatting at the moment, but there needed to be more focus on decreasing demand. "As far as ongoing treatment, I think it's best to be addressed medically than from a law enforcement standpoint," Bankert said. According to the Herald, suspected overdose deaths have been steadily increasing in Manatee County over the past four years, from eight people in 2012, to 19 in 2013, to 63 in 2014, to 54 through mid-May 2015.

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St. Petersburg Drug Charges FAQ

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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Additional Resources

Rehab International - Rehab International is dedicated to assisting individuals and their families who are living with addiction find the most appropriate treatment available to meets their needs.

Turning Point of Tampa, INC. - Turning Point of Tampa, INC. mission is to continually monitor and evaluate industry research and to explore and develop specific treatment focus for areas of special concern.

6227 Sheldon Road
2857 Executive Dr. 1st Floor
Tampa, FL 33615
Phone: (813) 882-3003

Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association - The FADAA strive to provide strong leadership to substance abuse prevention and treatment providers. The FADAA represents more than 100 community-based substance abuse treatment and prevention agencies and over 1000 individual members throughout Florida.

2868 Mahan Dr., Suite 1
Tallahassee, FL 32308
Phone: (850) 878-2196

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Finding a Pinellas County Drug Defense Lawyer

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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