The dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Arnold Law know that your legal problems are important to you, and we are here to represent you with integrity and tenacity. We have over forty-three years of experience handling criminal cases with extensive success representing clients facing serious drug charges. The penalties for a drug offense are severe, which is why you need a passionate and experienced attorney in your corner to make sure you receive the best possible outcome for your particular circumstance. We at Arnold Law are ready to come to your defense and use our extensive knowledge of drug laws and regulations to build a strong case for you.
Drug Offenses in Florida Law
There are various types of drug offenses defined in the Florida Statutes, and each different offense has different potential penalties. In general, a drug crime involves the violation of any law or regulation regarding controlled substances, which are defined as any drug or chemical that the government of the United States has legally classified as a threat to the health or welfare of the American people if used or illegally produced when not in legitimate medical circumstances. Florida law includes statutes that address the possession, distribution, and cultivation or manufacture of controlled substances, as well as the possession of drug paraphernalia.
The crime of drug possession is a common offense. Under Florida law, it is an offense that involves the possession of controlled substances intended for personal use, which the individual in possession did not produce and did not intend to sell or distribute. A person does not necessarily need to have used or to have the intention to use the drugs in their possession to be accused of drug possession, as long as the prosecution can demonstrate that the defendant was knowingly in possession of a controlled substance.
In order for a defendant to be convicted of a drug possession charge, the prosecution must prove the following:
- The controlled substance in the possession of the offender is illegal. In order for the prosecutor to successfully demonstrate that the item in the offender’s possession was indeed a controlled substance under Florida law, the drug must usually be sent for testing in a crime lab analysis.
- The offender was knowingly in possession of the drug. For a conviction of drug possession, a prosecutor needs to show that the offender was aware or reasonably should have been aware of the substance in their possession and its unlawful nature.
- The offender was in control of the drug at the time of its discovery. The prosecution has to prove that the offender was in control of the controlled substance and its location. This is especially straightforward if the drug was on the offender’s person at the time of discovery.
If all three of these are proven, this constitutes a drug possession offense. The penalties for drug possession in Florida depend upon the schedule as well as the amount, and this can be either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the possession as well as the criminal record of the offender.
The illegal sale, distribution, transportation, and/or importation of controlled substances is prohibited by Florida law. Drug distribution or trafficking offense is different from drug possession because this charge involves the specific intention to sell or distribute the drug in the individual’s possession, as well as involvement in the transportation or importation of illegal substances. If an illegal drug crosses state lines, then the crime falls under federal law; on the other hand, if the trafficking occurs entirely within the state of Florida, then the offender will answer under Florida law.
In order for a defendant to be convicted of a drug distribution charge, the prosecution must prove the following:
- The substance seized is a controlled substance under Florida law. In order for the prosecutor to successfully demonstrate that the item being trafficked was indeed a controlled substance under Florida law, the drug must usually be sent for testing in a crime lab analysis.
- The offender knowingly engaged in drug trafficking activity. The prosecutor has to show that the offender was aware of the effort to distribute drugs or to bring them into Florida. Alternately, the prosecutor can demonstrate the offender’s intention to engage in trafficking activities.
- The offender sold or distributed, or intended to sell or distribute, a controlled substance in their possession. The prosecution needs to prove that the drug possessed by the offender was intended for sale or distribution rather than personal use.
Drug trafficking involves the possession of controlled substances in excess of statutory limits with the intention of sale, distribution, or transportation. This is a very serious charge that is prosecuted aggressively in Florida, and the severity of the penalty increases with increasing amounts of the substance in your possession. The amount necessary to incur a trafficking charge depends upon the drug. The following are the minimum weight of the most common illegal substances necessary for a drug trafficking offense in Florida: twenty-five pounds of marijuana (or 300 plants), one gram of LSD or acid, twenty-eight grams of cocaine, ten grams of MDMA or ecstasy, fourteen grams of hydrocodone, and seven grams of oxycodone. Even if an individual does not have the intention to sell or distribute a drug, if they are in possession of an amount of an illegal substance in excess of the state’s statutory limit they could be charged with drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is a felony that can incur penalties of varying intensity depending on the classification and amount of the drug involved in the offense.
If a defendant possesses a smaller amount of a controlled substance with the intention to sell, a prosecutor can charge a defendant with drug distribution in lieu of drug trafficking. The particular charge depends upon the amount, the type of substance, and the circumstances. Because there are many different details involved in a drug distribution case, a conviction of this kind can be a misdemeanor for a minor infraction or a felony for a significant offense.
Drug Cultivation or Manufacture
Florida has strict laws prohibiting the cultivation and manufacturing of illegal drugs. This includes the growth of cannabis plants as well as the production of chemical substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, PCP, etc. Furthermore, the possession of chemicals specifically listed in the Florida Statutes with the intention of using them to manufacture an illegal substance violates state law, as does the knowledge of any plan to manufacture an illegal substance or the indirect involvement in such a plan (such as knowingly renting a room or facility for the manufacture of controlled substances). The cultivation or manufacturing of drugs is considered an even more severe offense if it is conducted in proximity to a school, public park, daycare, or recreational facility. Florida punishes drug cultivation and manufacturing as a felony, and this offense carries severe penalties that vary depending on the particular circumstances.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
According to Florida statute 893.147, drug paraphernalia includes any object used “to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, or conceal a controlled substance,” or “to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance.” This can include pipes, rolling papers, syringes, baggies, scales, and more. When a court is determining whether or not an item counts as drug paraphernalia, they take into account the item’s proximity to a controlled substance, the presence of residue, the possible legitimate uses of the item, as well as expert testimony regarding the use of the item.
The most straightforward way for the prosecutor to prove that an item is drug paraphernalia is to demonstrate the existence of drug residue—even in minute amounts—on the item. However, in the absence of residue, the prosecution has to find other evidence showing that the item was intended for the illegal use of controlled substances. If the paraphernalia was discovered in a location to which more than one individual had access, the prosecutor would need to prove that the defendant had knowledge of the presence of the item as well as control or ownership of it.
How Drugs are Classified in Florida
The Florida Statutes refer to illegal drugs as controlled dangerous substances, and these are divided into five categories, or schedules, depending upon their potential for abuse and medical value. In any drug offense, the schedule of the controlled substance involved as well as the amount possessed affect the severity of the penalty.
Drugs classified as a Schedule I have a great likelihood of being abused with no medical purpose. This includes LSD and heroin. Drugs in Schedule II also have high abuse potential; however, they do have severely-restricted but generally-accepted medical uses. This category includes things like cocaine, crack, morphine, and opium—drugs whose overuse can lead to extreme psychological and/or physical dependence. Controlled substances in Schedule III have a lower potential for being abused than those in Schedules I or II, although their abuse might cause intense psychological dependency as well as low to moderate physical dependency. Drugs in this category, such as anabolic steroids, have specific and legal medical use. The abuse of a controlled substance in Schedule IV can lead to some physical and/or psychological dependence, although this dependence—and the potential for abuse—are lower than that of drugs in Schedule III. Valium is one example of a Schedule IV substance. Finally, Schedule V substances have an accepted and legal, medical purpose plus a low risk of abuse or dependency of any kind. Medications containing a small amount of narcotic drugs are classified as Schedule V.
Marijuana in Florida Law
As of 2016, medical marijuana was legalized in the state of Florida. In 2019, the state’s ban on smokable marijuana was lifted, meaning it is also now legal for medical use. Certain medical professionals are certified to prescribe medical marijuana for approved conditions. Those who have received a prescription from a certified doctor will receive an identification card from Florida’s Department of Health, and they are added to a registry; however, a medical marijuana prescription-only lasts for thirty weeks, meaning that a person on the registry will need to renew their license with their prescribing doctor continuously.
Medical marijuana in Florida can only be purchased at state-approved dispensaries; if you purchase from another source--even if you have a legitimate medical marijuana prescription--you can receive a citation from the police. This means you should carry the card issued by the Health Department as well as the proof of purchase from the dispensary. There are very strict regulations surrounding who can grow marijuana, and only a handful of farmers have a license.
If you do have a license for medical marijuana in the state of Florida, it is important to comply with the many regulations put in place by the state. Even if you have a valid prescription, you can be charged with a drug offense for violating any of the strict regulations, such as purchasing marijuana from any vendor that is not approved by the state or using a medical marijuana license that has expired.
Penalties for Various Drug Offenses
The penalties for drug offenses in Florida vary widely in severity depending upon the type and amount of the controlled substance as well as the charge (possession, distribution, or manufacture). In general, the state punishes all drug offenses severely, even if it is the offender’s first conviction. Some offenses carry a mandatory minimum sentence, and there are specific state laws that impose harsher penalties for repeat offenders.
Possessing over ten grams of a Schedule I drug is punishable as a first-degree felony and can carry a sentence of up to thirty years in prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or jail time and a fine. Possessing any other controlled substance is classified as a third-degree felony and can be punished with a maximum fine of $5,000, a maximum prison sentence of five years, or both. Being in possession of fewer than twenty grams of marijuana without a medical license is punishable as a misdemeanor in the first degree with up to a year in prison, a maximum $1,000 fine, or both prison time and a fine. Having over twenty grams is classified as a third-degree felony and therefore can carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. Marijuana possession will also result in a one-year driver’s license suspension. The possession of any drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor in the first degree and is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail, up to a year in prison, up to a year of probation, or a combination of all three.
Any drug distribution crime labeled as possession with intent to sell that is punished as a third-degree felony can result in prison time at a maximum of five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. For possession with intent to sell prosecuted as a felony in the second degree, the offender can be imprisoned for up to fifteen years, fined up to $10,000, or both. The penalties for a drug trafficking conviction classified as a felony in the first degree vary depending on the type and amount of the controlled substance in question. Greater quantities result in more severe punishment, but the maximum prison sentence for a first-degree felony in Florida is thirty years. Trafficking between twenty-five and 2,000 pounds of marijuana incurs a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years in addition to a $25,000 fine, and trafficking 2,000 to 10,000 pounds of marijuana requires a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years plus $50,000 in fines. However, the prosecution can seek sentences above the mandatory minimum, meaning a drug distribution charge can result in extremely severe punishment.
The sentencing for drug manufacturing or cultivating is dependant upon the type of controlled substance. The cultivation of cannabis, or marijuana, can be prosecuted as a felony in the third degree and can incur a prison sentence of up to five years, a maximum fine of $5,000, or a combined prison sentence and fine. Illegally manufacturing other drugs result in conviction of a second-degree felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years and a maximum fine of $10,000 (or a combination of both). The state of Florida also punishes other activities connected to the illegal manufacture and cultivation of controlled substances, and these penalties depend heavily upon the circumstances.
In all criminal cases involving a drug offense, your defense matters. A strong defense can make a significant difference in your sentencing and your future. It is critical to hire an attorney who is experienced defending against drug charges in Florida in order to get the minimum possible penalty; otherwise, you could face extensive time behind bars or exorbitant fines.
Common Defenses Against Drug Charges
There are many possible ways to fight a drug charge, and the defense strategy will depend on the particular circumstances as well as the type and amount of the controlled substance involved in the crime. In general, a criminal defense attorney can argue that the search and seizure by the police were unlawful if the officer violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when the drugs or drug paraphernalia were discovered. Another possible defense against drug charges is to demonstrate entrapment, meaning that law enforcement tricked the defendant into committing a crime through planted evidence or other means.
When fighting charges of possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, an attorney can argue that the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant was in control of the substance or paraphernalia. For example, if you borrow a friend’s car and a police officer pulls you over and finds a pipe with marijuana residue in the glove compartment, you cannot be convicted of drug paraphernalia possession unless it can be proven that you were aware that the pipe was present. Further, if the defense can prove that their possession of the paraphernalia was temporary, and they did not have control or dominion, they cannot be charged with a crime of possession. Another strong defense against a possession charge is to show a valid medical prescription for the controlled substance in question or to demonstrate that the defendant was using marijuana within the legal limits of Florida’s medical marijuana regulations. Florida law says that any person who is seeking medical attention for a drug overdose cannot be charged for possessing drug paraphernalia if the defense proves that the paraphernalia was found as a result of the defendant overdosing. In some cases, it can be possible to demonstrate that a defendant was unaware that the controlled substance in their possession was illegal or restricted by law, although this defense does not often make a strong case.
One potential argument in a charge of drug distribution, aside from a Fourth Amendment violation or an illegal search and seizure, is to show that the controlled substance possessed by the defendant was intended for personal use rather than for sale or distribution. A possible but limited defense against a manufacture or cultivation charge is to argue that the defendant performed the action out of medical necessity in order to avoid greater harm.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney to Fight a Drug Charge Near Me
Florida takes drug offenses seriously and prosecutes them aggressively. This is a conviction that could result in severe penalties and long-lasting negative effects on your life. If you are facing a drug charge of any kind, it is critical to contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can investigate the details of your case and use their expertise and knowledge of state laws to build a strong defense for you. Your legal problems are important to the expert attorneys at Arnold Law, so contact us at 904-264-3627 for a consultation if you need help defending yourself in any type of drug case.