Florida has the some of the toughest drug laws in the country, and courts in Lee County do not treat drug offenses lightly. The State Attorney’s Office uses every means at their disposal—including both state law and federal law—to prosecute these cases aggressively.
Under Florida Statutes Section 893.13, it is illegal to sell, manufacture, or deliver controlled substances. Additionally, this section prohibits the possession of controlled substances with intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver. Florida law further prohibits the simple possession of drugs, conspiracy to commit drug-related crimes, drug trafficking, and driving under the influence of drugs. Drug charges apply not only to illegal narcotics but also to the unauthorized possession and use of prescription drugs, medical marijuana, and chemical inhalants.
Drug charges in Florida primarily depend on three factors: the type of drug involved, the quantity of the drug involved, and the presence of aggravating circumstances.
The Type of Drug Involved
Florida Statutes Section 893.03 classifies drugs into five different “schedules” or classes. On one end of the scale, Schedule 1 includes drugs such as heroin with high potential for abuse and no medical value. On the other end, Schedule 5 includes drugs with the least potential for abuse, like Robitussin AC. Many drugs are considered to have both genuine medical value and significant potential for dependence, so they are classified in between as Schedules 2, 3, and 4. The higher the schedule of the drug, the more restricted it is and, therefore, the more severe
The Quantity of the Drug Involved
In Florida, possession with the intent to sell and manufacturing drugs are considered serious felonies. The possession of drugs for personal use usually incurs less severe charges. Along the same vein, possession of smaller quantities carries lesser penalties than possession of larger quantities. However, there are exceptions to both of these statements. There can be heavy penalties for mere possession of small quantities of certain drugs such as fentanyl that are considered highly dangerous. In addition, mere possession of a drug can amount to trafficking if the quantity is sufficiently large. Under Florida Statutes Section 893.135, anyone who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, or brings drugs into the state or anyone who is found in possession of more than a certain amount of drugs can be charged with trafficking. Under Florida Statutes Section 921.142, trafficking in cocaine or opiates in particular is considered to carry a grave risk of death or danger to the public. As a consequence, this section establishes the rule that a reckless disregard for human life is implicit in knowingly trafficking in cocaine or opiates. This means a jury can find that persons who traffic in cocaine or opiates have a culpable mental state of reckless indifference or disregard for human life, and under certain circumstances, the jury can sentence those persons to life imprisonment or even death.
In Lee County, prosecutors can charge a defendant with a felony whenever a drug violation involves one or more aggravating factors, even if the underlying drug possession on its own would be considered a misdemeanor. One aggravating factor may be if the person who committed the violation is a repeat offender. Another may be if the violation occurred in or near a certain area where children may be present—such as a school zone, swimming pool, park, certain type of public building, housing unit, or public transportation. Commission of the violation near a drug treatment facility is considered an aggravating factor, as well. Finally, penalties increase substantially anytime the offense involves the possession or use of a firearm.
Depending on the drug involved and the particular circumstances of the offense, penalties for drug violations can include fines, mandatory treatment programs, driver’s license suspensions, jail sentences, and probation. For example, the simple possession of marijuana weighing one ounce or less is subject to a $100 fine and forfeiture of the drug. However, an additional charge for the intent to distribute any amount of marijuana can result in fines up to $5,000 and as much as 2 years in prison. Distribution offenses prosecuted as “drug trafficking,” a first-degree felony, can result in a wide range of sentences, reaching a maximum of 30 years. Offenses prosecuted as possession with the intent to sell, a third-degree felony, can result in up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. A second-degree felony conviction can result in a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years and a fine up to $10,000.
Although Florida drug laws can be complicated and the penalties severe, there are several defenses that may be available in any given case. First, drug charges commonly stem from the search and seizure of illegal substances by a police officer. If the officer involved did not have either probable cause or consent to perform the search, or if the search was unreasonable, then the evidence obtained from the search can be suppressed in court. This means the charges relating to that evidence can be reduced or even dismissed. In marijuana cases in particular, it is important to know that new state marijuana and hemp laws have made it so that the smell of marijuana alone is no longer sufficient to justify the search of an entire vehicle. Unless the officer had further cause to perform the search, any evidence found in such cases must be suppressed.
Other potential defenses to drug charges can include joint possession, temporary possession, entrapment, lack of knowledge, alibi, and prescription defenses. In Lee County, there are also alternatives to incarceration available to first-time offenders. These include both misdemeanor and felony diversion programs, and successful completion of those programs can lead to a dismissal of the charges. Lee County also has an active and effective “drug court.” The felony drug court program is a court-supervised comprehensive treatment program for individuals in the criminal justice system who have substance abuse issues. The program is designed to divert cases from the traditional court system while helping defendants recover from drug and alcohol addiction, stay in recovery, and become productive members of society.
There are various ways a lawyer can build an effective defense against criminal charges involving any type of controlled substance, and it takes a thorough, individualized approach, including a full investigation of the charges, to determine the best strategy for any particular case. If you or someone you know is being investigated for or has been charged with a drug crime in Florida, you may be in danger of facing serious criminal penalties, loss of employment, and damage to your reputation. Choosing an attorney who only handles drug cases “now and again” puts you in a precarious position. You need to retain a talented, experienced drug crimes defense attorney who can demonstrate a proven track record of success in defending drug charges in Lee County. Call Robert Foley Law today for your free initial consultation.