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Drug Crimes

Your entire case could be won or lost depending on whether a viable motion to suppress the drug evidence is filed and litigated in your case. Additionally, a motion to dismiss can be filed in your case if the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you actually or constructively

Additionally, a motion to dismiss can be filed in your case if the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you actually or constructively possessed the controlled substance. Other defenses exist in drug cases including a prescription defense, a legal disposal defense, and a drug overdose immunity statute.

Attorney for Drug Crimes Prosecuted in Tampa, FL

After an arrest for a drug offense, it is important to speak with an attorney experienced in fighting drug crimes in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL.

If you have been arrested for a drug crime in the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, or Hernando County, then contact an experienced attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. By focusing on criminal defense and serious drug crimes, we pay particular attention to recent changes in the law and unique arguments that apply to these types of cases.

Call (813) 250-0500.


Drug Crimes in Hillsborough County, FL

At least in Hillsborough County, many of the lower-level drug cases meet the criteria for Drug Court and are assigned to Division "Y." You also have the option of removing your case from drug court so that it can be resolved in a regular trial division.

Before you make a decision, contact us to understand the pros and cons of entering drug court or fighting the case aggressively for an outright dismissal.

Legislative Updates in 2016: Call us to learn more about Chapter 2016-105 for Narcotics Laws in Florida. This new legislation on drug laws in Florida amends various portions of Chapter 893. The new legislation adds definitions, adds substances to the different schedules, and amends penalty provisions. 


Types of Drug Crimes in Florida

We represent individuals charged with a wide variety of drug charges, including:


Types of Controlled Substances under Florida Law

Contact an experienced drug crime attorney in Tampa at 813-250-0500 to discuss the case. Our attorneys represent clients charged with a wide variety of possession, sale, or trafficking offenses including:

  • Marijuana / Cannabis / Pot / Weed
  • Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
  • Street Drugs, including:
    • Cocaine
    • Heroin
    • Methamphetamine / Meth / Crystal Meth
    • PCP (Phencyclidine)
    • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
    • Psilocybin (Mushrooms)
    • MDMA / XTC (Ecstasy)
    • Opium
  • Prescription Drug Abuse (which can sometimes be charged as "drug trafficking" even through only one bottle of prescription medication is involved), including:
    • OxyContin / Oxycodone
    • Demerol / Meperidine
    • Vicodin / Hydrocodone
    • Valium / Diazepam
    • Xanax / Alprazolam
    • Ritalin / Adderall / Methylphenidate / Amphetamine

An Overview:

· Credibility of Informants and Undercover Officers
· Motions to Suppress
· Element of the Offense - Proving Possession
· Common Factual Situations - Drugs Found in a Vehicle
· What to do when your vehicle is stopped
· Conclusion


Credibility of Confidential Informants (CI) and Undercover Officers

Drug cases often revolve around the credibility of confidential informants who are working with undercover detectives to set up other individuals to commit drug crimes. Confidential informants are used routinely for sale and delivery of cocaine cases, and for serious drug trafficking cases in the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, and Pasco County. 

The key to winning these cases is uncovering mistakes made by law enforcement, inconsistencies in the testimony of various witnesses, and the physical evidence such as audiotaped or videotaped statements.

In many cases, confidential informants are desperate to set up another individual to lessen their punishment for their criminal misconduct. Conducting an exhaustive investigation to exploit this desperation is an important part of winning a drug case. Additionally, the entrapment defense may be available in any case in which a confidential informant or undercover officer encouraged the defendant to commit the crime charged.

The confidential informant, usually an individual that already has a long criminal history or pending charges, has an incredible motive to lie, plant evidence, and make false accusations. In certain cases, the confidential informant (CI) will set up other individuals in exchange for cash payments from law enforcement. These financial incentives can also call the confidential informant's credibility into question.

The detectives, special agents, or law enforcement officers working with the confidential informants may also be engaged in questionable activities, take shortcuts that violate the law, or otherwise cause their credibility to be questioned. In some cases, those shortcuts taken by law enforcement can cause the entire case to be dismissed.

A criminal defense attorney for drug crimes can find and exploit reasonable doubts that may exist in your case because of credibility issues with the confidential informant, detectives, agents or undercover officers.

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Motions to Suppress in Florida Narcotic Cases

The fourth amendment of the United States Constitutions protects all individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. Police officers all too often ignore these principles when conducting investigations. When the police seize evidence illegally, it is more than just a "technicality" -- it reaches to the very validity of the arrest.

Without constitutional requirements that protect the rights of citizens, the freedoms that all law abiding citizens enjoy would be jeopardized. Hiring an experienced Drug Crimes Defense Attorney to contest the legality of each step taken by the police is critical to your defense.

If your case involves a search of your person, vehicle or home, we will research every aspect of the case to have the illegally obtained evidence thrown out. Evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant or arrest warrant can also be contested.

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Element of the Offense - Proving Possession

The word "possession" has a particular meaning under the law. Possession of a drug does not require ownership. Possession of a drug is not necessarily exclusive to only one person (in other words, two people can "possess" the same item at the same time). Essentially, possession means to exercise control over something. Possession can be actual or constructive.

"Actual possession" means to be in direct physical contract with the substance, such as holding drug paraphernalia in your hand, having cocaine in your pocket, or carrying marijuana in a purse on your shoulder.

"Constructive possession" means that you are not actually in physical contact with the substance, and must be proven by showing that the defendant:

  1. Knew of the presence of the drugs;
  2. Knew of the illicit nature of the drugs; and
  3. Had dominion or control over the drugs.

Knowledge of the presence of the drug can be inferred from circumstantial evidence, including possession or ownership of the premises or vehicle where the item was found. However, if more than one person jointly occupies the premises or vehicle where the drugs are found, then the knowledge of the accused will not be inferred from his possession of the premises or vehicle, but rather must be established by independent proof.

Independent proof can include:

  1. Statements of the defendant that he knew about the presence of the drugs; or
  2. The fact that the drugs were in plain view.

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Common Factual Situations - Drugs Found in a Vehicle

Two people are in a vehicle-- a driver and a passenger. The vehicle is stopped for speeding. The officer asks the occupants to exit the vehicle and conducts a search. On the floor board, under the back passenger seat, the office locates a baggy of drugs hidden in a brown paper bag (not in plain view).

The driver and passenger either refuse to answer any questions or deny knowing that the drugs were in the vehicle. Under this scenario, if the driver or passenger were arrested for possession of the controlled substance, either would probably win a motion to dismiss.

Under these facts, there is insufficient evidence to determine who possessed the controlled substance since it was found in a jointly occupied vehicle, it was not in plain view, and there were no statements by either party admitting to knowledge of the contraband.

A Motion to Dismiss is a written document that is sworn to by the defendant that recites the facts of the case as alleged by the police (assuming those facts are true) and shows that although the facts of the case are not in dispute, those facts do not prove a "prima facie" case of guilt.

Of course, most police officers understand that insufficient evidence exists under this scenario. The police are trained to gather additional evidence in this type of situation.

First, the police will try and get one or both of the parties to make a statement admitting that they knew the drugs were in the car. The police do this in many ways. First, the police may threaten to arrest the other occupant of the vehicle unless someone gives a confession.

Secondly, the police may promise to "go easier" on everyone if someone admits knowledge or ownership of the drugs. Third, the police may accuse the driver of more serious offenses such as selling drugs, to get the driver to say, "No, that is for personal use. I'm not a drug dealer." Once the driver is tricked into talking about the case, the driver has just admitted knowledge and ownership of the drugs.

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What to do during a traffic stop

The best thing to do when your vehicle is stopped by the police is to be as politely and cooperative as possible. Once you determine that the police are interested in more than just issuing you a citation, keep the following in mind:

  • Do not exit the vehicle until asked to do so. Once you are asked to exit the vehicle, the officers are interested in more than just issuing a civil traffic ticket.
  • Politely decline to make any statement or consent to any search of your person or property or perform any test or exercise of your sobriety.
  • Tell the officer politely that you are invoking your rights. The only thing that you need to say to invoke your rights is "I am invoking my right to remain silent. I want my attorney to be present for any questioning. Am I free to leave?"
  • Under the 5th Amendment and Miranda v. Arizona, your rights include the following:
    1. the right to remain silent;
    2. the right to have an attorney present before and during any questioning;
    3. the right to refuse to consent to any search of your person, belongings, vehicle, or residence; and
    4. the right to refuse to consent to take any sobriety exercises, the "HGN" eye test, handheld breath test, or other breath or chemical test.

Do not talk to the officer about whether any items belongs to you or not. Simply continue to invoke your right to remain silent. If the officer continues to question you, know that the officer is violating your right to remain silent. No matter what the officer says, continue to remain silent. 

If you spontaneously start talking, even after invoking your rights, that information can be used against you. Of course, your refusal to answer all of the officer's questions may mean that the officer will arrest you. However, if the officer has grounds to arrest you, then it is unlikely that anything you say will change the officer's mind.

Usually, the officer continues the questioning because the officer does not have enough evidence to make an arrest without your confession or admissions. So by continuing to remain silent, you are not giving the officer that one additional piece of evidence needed to make the arrest. Do not physically resist the officer in any manner, because doing so will result in an additional charge. Be as polite and respectful as possible.

If you are not under arrest or detention, you are free to end the contact with the officer and leave. For instance, once you receive a traffic citation, you should be free to end the contact with the police. 

Politely ask the officer if you are free to go. If the officer does not have "probable cause" to continue to detain you, then the officer will let you go. If the officer continues to detain you after you ask to leave, you may have grounds to suppress any evidence gathered after that.

The only information you should give the officer is information concerning your identity (name, date of birth, address, etc.), driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. Make sure that information is easily accessible so you can hand it to the officer if it is requested.

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Drug Overdose Immunity under Section 893.21(2)

In some cases, a person charged with a drug crime can file a motion to dismiss the criminal charge because of the immunity provision of Section 893.21, Florida Statutes, which provides:

Florida Statute Secction 893.21 Drug-related overdoses; medical assistance; immunity from prosecution.

(1) A person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose may not be charged, prosecuted, or penalized pursuant to this chapter for possession of a controlled substance if the evidence for possession of a controlled substance was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.
 
(2) A person who experiences a drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance may not be charged, prosecuted, or penalized pursuant to this chapter for possession of a controlled substance if the evidence for possession of a controlled substance was obtained as a result of the overdose and the need for medical assistance.
 
(3) Protection in this section from prosecution for possession offenses under this chapter may not be grounds for suppression of evidence in other criminal prosecutions.

The immunity provisions of the drug overdose statute only apply when the defendant was experiencing a drug overdose and needed medical assistance. The statute gives immunity to the person suffering from the overdose and the person who seeks medical assistance on their behalf. The statute does not define the word “drug-related overdose.”


Prescription Defenses to Florida Drug Crimes

Under Florida law, it is unlawful for any person to be in actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance unless the substance was “lawfully obtained from a practitioner or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a practitioner....” Thus, having a valid prescription is a defense to possession of a controlled substance. See §§ 499.03(1), 893.13(6)(a), Fla. Stat. (2012); O'Hara v. State, 964 So.2d 839, 840–41 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007).

Read more about the prescription drug defense. Call us to find out more about how the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm can file a motion to dismiss in a case charging possession of a controlled substance or trafficking when the person in possession had a valid prescription for the drugs possessed.

Florida law also includes an affirmative defense if you took possession of the controlled substance only for the purpose of legally disposing of it or turning it over to law enforcement. Click here to read more about Florida's drug defense for legal disposal.


Choosing an Attorney for Drug Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you have been arrested for any drug crime in Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County or the surrounding areas, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Tampa to discuss your case. We represent clients charged with Possession of Controlled Substances under F.S. 893.13(6)(a) and related charges for possession with intent to sell, dealing drugs, and trafficking in drugs.

Whether your case is assigned to drug court or a regular trial division, we can help you understand all of your options. Talk with us about important defenses that might apply to your case. Let us put our experience to work for you. Call 813-250-0500 to speak with an experienced attorney for narcotic crimes in Tampa.

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This article was updated by on Friday, June 23, 2017.