Drug crimes can still lead to harsh penalties under Florida state and federal laws. An attorney can help you better understand not only the procedural aspects of a drug offense case, but the legal ramifications of a guilty plea, or a not-guilty plea and a subsequent trial, too. Drug crimes cover controlled substances including, but not limited to, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, opiates, methamphetamines, and prescription drugs. If you are convicted of a federal drug charge, such as manufacturing, trafficking, or distribution, you will face a mandatory prison sentence. All federal drug offenses carry minimum sentences. Even where charges are unavoidable, your potential penalties may be minimized by limiting investigator access, getting illegally obtained evidence excluded, negotiating with prosecutorial agencies from the earliest stages, and using the absence of drug history favorably. If you are possibly facing drug charges, it is best to consult an attorney at the earliest available opportunity in order to obtain information and better manage the process for your protection.
Different Repercussions for Drug Possession Charges
Each state has specific guidelines on penalties for drug possession charges. If you are charged with drug possession in Florida, you can face a variety of penalties depending on the type of drug, as well as the amount. F.S. 893.13 outlines prohibited acts and penalties related to drug possession.
Though the Florida legislature has moved to soften laws related to drug offenders, little change has occurred, and Florida is still considered one of the harsher states. If you face drug possession charges, it’s important to understand the laws surrounding your charge. In Florida, a person is typically charged with drug possession when they did not distribute, sell, or manufacture the substance. Possession indicates the offender held the controlled substance most likely for their own personal use. Under Florida law, drug possession can still be a considered a felony offense.
Medical marijuana is not considered a controlled substance, but the list of controlled substances has otherwise grown in recent years, adding bath salts and spice to the list of prohibited drugs. Further, though medical marijuana is legal for those who qualify for the Florida Compassionate Use Registry, individuals without a prescription can still be charged with a misdemeanor in the first degree for possession of cannabis in any amount less than 20 grams. If there is sufficient evidence to support a charge of intent to sell, the penalties can increase significantly.
In order to prove a possession charge, a prosecutor must prove the defendant had knowledge of and was in control of the substance. Proving possession is made more difficult by the frequency in which drugs are found in homes and vehicles. Additionally, there is a major difference between actual possession and constructive possession in Florida. Actual possession applies in instances where drugs are found on the physical body of an individual. This could mean they were hidden in skin folds, pockets, shoes, or underwear. Constructive possession, on the other hand, refers to drugs found not physically on the individual. The evidence in constructive possession cases shows that the drugs were in control of the individual being charged due to their location being under the control of the defendant (such as in their home or their car).
As far as drug possession charges go in Florida, marijuana possession is a relatively mild offense. Individuals charged with less than twenty grams of marijuana face first-degree misdemeanor charges for drug possession. Offenders can be sentenced to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a more serious offense. It is a third-degree felony penalized by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Florida is, unfortunately, one of the few states that has not done much to decriminalize marijuana. In addition to serving a jail sentence, those charged with marijuana possession may also face suspension of their driver’s licenses and probation. The impact on an individual’s criminal record can also limit eligibility for certain jobs, financial aid for school, and some housing. Further, an offender who has a previous history of drug charges at the time of arrest may face more serious penalties.
Possession of More Serious Drugs
Florida divides controlled dangerous substances into five “schedules,” based on likelihood for abuse and addiction. Schedule I drugs (such as heroin) are those with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Schedule II drugs (such as opium, morphine, and cocaine) also have a high potential for abuse, including the potential for severe psychic and physical dependence, but they have an accepted medical use with restrictions. Schedule III drugs (such as anabolic steroids) have a potential for abuse less than Schedule I or II drugs, and their abuse may lead to low or moderate physical dependence and high psychological dependence. Schedule IV drugs (such as diazepam) have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs, an acceptable medical abuse, and limited psychological and physical dependence. Schedule V drugs have the lowest potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use, and a more limited risk of physical or psychological dependence.
Generally, it is a third-degree felony to be convicted of possession of a more serious controlled dangerous substance, such as heroin, cocaine, or ecstasy. This crime carries a penalty of up to five years in jail and up to a $5000 fine. However, pursuant to F.S. 893.13, an individual in possession of more than 10 grams of most Schedule I drugs and related opiate substances may be found to have committed a first-degree felony, with a penalty of up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Schedule I drugs are substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
Possession of an Unlawful Chemical
In Florida, pursuant to F.S. 893.149 , if you are found in possession of any unlawful chemicals, you may be convicted of a second-degree felony for intent to unlawfully manufacture a controlled substance. The prohibited chemicals are listed in F.S. 893.033. They are prohibited because the listed chemicals are ingredients that may be used to manufacture controlled substances and are critical to the creation of controlled substances like methamphetamines, ecstasy, or GHB. A second-degree felony has a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
The use, possession, manufacture, delivery, or advertisement of drug paraphernalia is a first- degree misdemeanor. This makes it one of the lesser charges related to drug crimes. Drug paraphernalia are defined under Florida law as including pipes, bongs, other smoking devices, spoons, needles, syringes, scales, measuring, or preparation devices, containers, bags, and other items. This charge is typically included with other drug charges related to intent to distribute and/or possession. The penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine.
Drug Trafficking Charges
Charges for drug manufacturing or trafficking carry serious consequences if convicted. Both Florida state and federal law impose significant penalties upon those convicted of drug trafficking and manufacturing, and convictions may include mandatory minimum sentences. All trafficking charges are first degree felonies, at a minimum. This means they carry a maximum prison sentence of thirty years and minimum penalties that include fines and prison sentences. Though the toughest drug laws were passed to discourage drug cartels, they often ruin the lives of first-time offenders, too.
In the state of Florida, drug trafficking is defined as the deliberate selling, purchasing, manufacturing, delivering, possessing, or transporting of a “trafficking amount” of illegal drugs into or within Florida. The term “trafficking amount” refers to the minimum amount of specific illegal drugs in order to establish a drug trafficking charge; as the amount of the illicit drug possessed increases, the minimum mandatory prison sentence does, too. Under F.S. 893.135, one can be guilty of trafficking drugs simply by possessing a significant enough amount of the illegal substance. This means that the single most important factor in determining a drug trafficking conviction is the quantity of the drugs at issue.
The minimum trafficking amount of the most common drugs are as follows:
- Cannabis: 25 pounds or more (300 plants or more)
- Cocaine – 28 grams or more
- Oxycodone – 4 grams or more
- Ecstasy (MDMA) – 10 grams or more
- Hydrocodone – 4 grams or more
- GHB – 1 kilogram or more
- LSD – 1 gram or more
The minimum mandatory sentences imposed will depend on the type of narcotics and quantity discovered. It does not matter whether the substance is pure or mixed with something else. For example, whether you are found with a white powder containing 99% pure cocaine and a kilogram of light-colored rocks or a dust containing only 2% cocaine, if the quantity of the substance is large enough, the offender will be subjected to the same sentencing: a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 15 years and a $250,000 fine. The mixture rule applies to almost every controlled substance, including cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.
Possession or trafficking of cannabis in the amount of at least 25 pounds or 300 plants carries the following mandatory minimum sentences: For 25 to 2000 pounds, a minimum three-year prison sentence and up to $25,000 in fines; for 2000 to 10000 pounds, a minimum seven-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000. For more than 10,000 pounds of cannabis, it is a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and up to a $200,000 fine.
Trafficking of More Serious Drugs
The opioid family of drugs includes morphine, fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opiates. Drugs such as amphetamines, hallucinogens, methamphetamines, and other illegal drugs carry similar penalties to opioids.
A defendant found in possession of at least 4 grams of opioids can be charged with drug trafficking. The legal consequences for heroin possession are as follows: For 4 to 14 grams, a 3- year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000; for 14 to 28 grams, a 7- year minimum prison sentence and up to $100,000 in fines; for 28 to 38 kilograms, a 25-year minimum prison sentence and up to $500,000 in fines.
For hydrocodone trafficking, the penalties are as follows: for 14 to 28 grams, 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $50,000 fine; for 29 to 49 grams, a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $100,000 fine; for 50 to 200 grams, a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $500,000 fine; for 200 grams to 30 kilograms, a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $750,000 fine.
For oxycodone trafficking, the penalties are as follows: for 7 to 14 grams, a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $50,000 fine; for 14 to 25 grams, a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $100,000 fine; for 25 to 100 grams, a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $500,000 fine; for 100 grams to 30 kilograms, a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $750,000 fine.
For LSD trafficking, the penalties are as follows: for 1 to 5 grams, a 3-year prison sentence and a $50,000 fine; for 5 to 7 grams, a 7-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine; for more than 7 grams, a 15-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine.
For MDMA/Ecstasy trafficking, the penalties are as follows: for 10 to 200 grams, a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $50,000 fine; for 200 to 400 grams, a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $100,000 fine; for more than 400 grams, a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Cocaine possession becomes a first-degree felony when a defendant is found with at least 28 grams of cocaine. The punishments for a conviction of possession of large quantities of cocaine are as follows: for 28 to 200 grams, a minimum of 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000; for 200 to 400 grams, a seven-year minimum prison sentence and a fine of up to $100,000; for 400 grams to 150 kilograms, a 15-year minimum prison sentence and up to $250,000 in fines. For more than 150 kilograms, it is a first-degree felony subject to life imprisonment without parole eligibility.
For methamphetamine trafficking, the penalties are as follows: for 14 to 28 grams, a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $50,000 fine; for 28 to 200 grams, a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $100,000 fine; for more than 200 grams, a 15-year mandatory prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
The Role of Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers use a variety of tactics to build trafficking cases. They often pose as buyers and sellers of narcotics and try to work a case up until a trafficking amount is involved. The officers receive specialized training to know the trafficking threshold amounts for controlled substances. They use this knowledge and training to negotiate deals. Additionally, they use confidential informants and pay them cash to make introductions and participate in deals.
Defenses to Drug Trafficking
The strongest defenses against a drug trafficking charge in Florida typically involve suppressing evidence obtained to support the charges. One of the best defenses to a drug trafficking and manufacturing charge arises if police officers violated your Constitutional rights to obtain evidence. For example, if evidence is found through an unlawful search and seizure or during a warrantless stop, or if officers fail to read you your Miranda rights to inform you of your right to an attorney and your right to remain silent, a criminal defense attorney can help prevent that evidence from being used against you.
In addition to asserting the evidence was obtained in violation of your rights, defenses of insufficient evidence and the statute of limitations may apply to prevent the introduction of evidence in a trafficking case.
Entrapment may also be a defense to drug trafficking charges. If police officers conduct a sting operation or use confidential informants, they may go too far to coerce a person into committing a crime they would never have otherwise. This can establish an entrapment defense, which can lead to dismissal or acquittal of the trafficking and possession charges.
Mandatory minimum sentences may also be avoided if the defendant provides substantial assistance to law enforcement. This means working for law enforcement as a “snitch” or an “informer” in order to help the police arrest others. Though this is seldom the first option, it may be the only way to ensure significant prison time in some cases.