The United States government and the state of Florida take drug offenses very seriously. With over 150,000 drug-related arrests each year, the criminal justice system is inundated with cases ranging from simple possession to manufacturing, trafficking, and importation of controlled substances. If you or someone you love has been arrested for a drug-related offense, you should immediately contact an attorney experienced in this area, to better your chances of a favorable outcome.
Controlled substances, as illicit narcotics are officially known, include a wide range of organic and chemical compounds which are identified by their official names and organized by law into various schedules. These schedules take into account, among other things, any potential medical use for the product and the risk of misuse by the typical user for non-medical purposes. Products which are considered to have very high risk of misuse and limited or no medical value, such as heroin, PCP, and cocaine, are outlawed altogether. Other products which have high risk but established medical value, such as Xanax, codeine, and oxycodone, are prescribed and distributed under strict medical supervision.
Marijuana is currently undergoing a transition in many states (including Florida) from being a strictly controlled substance, thanks in large part to its now-established medicinal value. In some areas of the country, non-medical possession is not actively prosecuted, and may even be legal under local law. However, until the Florida Legislature acts otherwise, possession of the substance without a state-sanctioned medical marijuana card is still punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor (28 grams or less) or a third-degree felony (over 28 grams).
If a person is arrested for simple drug possession, the punishment may not appear to be severe. For first- or second-time offenders, the time served in jail before bonding out may be the only immediate sanction, and a withholding of adjudication is possible (meaning that the person will not be officially convicted). But, as with other offenses, a felony conviction in a drug case will appear on one’s permanent criminal record, with all the limitations that can impose. For more serious offenses, such as sale or trafficking of controlled substances, running a marijuana “grow house,” and the like, the punishments upon conviction may range from probation up to life in prison without parole, depending on the nature and quantity of the substance at issue.
A client whose offense arises from active drug addiction may be able to receive assistance from the justice system in confronting that addiction. Where specialized drug courts are available, as in Miami-Dade County (a pioneer of the concept), they have proven very effective in helping addicts regain sobriety, while minimizing the legal fallout. Or a judge may order completion of a drug or mental health program as a special condition of probation. However, if the client denies possessing the controlled substance or knowing it to be such, or if other potential defenses exist, the option of trial by jury always available.
In federal drug prosecutions, possession of the charged substance, with knowledge of its illicit nature, is enough to support a guilty verdict—the purpose for which the substance was possessed is irrelevant. If the amount or weight of the substance crosses certain thresholds, the law presumes that the possessor intended to sell or distribute the substance, not to merely keep it for personal use. The penalties for such sale or distribution, or for conspiracy to sell or distribute, are much more severe, often involving mandatory time in state or Federal prison. If firearms are possessed or used during a drug transaction, the risk of long-term imprisonment increases dramatically.
Unlike federal law, or the laws of all other states, Florida drug statutes do not require the state to prove that a defendant knew the controlled substance was illegal–only that it was in fact illegal, and that the defendant possessed it. While one is still permitted to argue this lack of knowledge at trial, as an affirmative defense, the law presumes that the person was in fact aware. This is a powerful weapon for prosecutors, as you can imagine; and of course there is never a guarantee that a jury will accept such a defense.
For these reasons, any arrest in a drug case should be taken very seriously, and you should place your case or that of your loved one into the hands of an experienced, knowledgeable attorney. Please call The Tony Moss Firm at 877.547.9407, or e-mail him at Tony@TonyMossLaw.com to schedule a consultation.