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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > PIKing Through a Drug Possession Case

PIKing Through a Drug Possession Case


Here’s an interesting set of statistics, or at least interesting to us. Drug possession accounts for 85 percent of drug arrests, yet just over 25 percent of the nation’s jail and prison population. Why the large disparity? Why do so many cases result in so few prison sentences? The number of moving parts in a drug possession case (more on that below) explains part of the difference. Changing juror attitudes also explain part of the difference. Quite simply, many jurors no longer think that drug possession should be a crime.

A good Tampa criminal defense lawyer leverages these two facts during plea bargain negotiations to obtain a favorable outcome. It’s hard enough for a prosecutor to prove one crime in court. Drug possession is like three crimes in one. Furthermore, prosecutors know that, even if they establish their cases, punishment will most likely be light. So, they’re reluctant to invest substantial time in these cases. They’d rather get what they can and move on to other matters.


If the elements of drug possession stopped here, the incarceration rate would be much higher. Generally, proximity is the easiest drug possession element to prove.

Vehicle possession cases, which make up most drug possession cases, are a good example. Typically, if officers find drugs in a car, even if those drugs were concealed on someone’s person, officers arrest everyone in the car. That’s because the proximity element is so easy to establish.

According to Florida law, anything in the passenger area, which includes a pickup truck’s bed or a car’s trunk, is “proximate” to anyone in the vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the item in question was physically inaccessible, like in a locked glove compartment.

However, this additional fact matters a lot in knowledge/control determinations, an element we’ll examine below.


At the scene, officers usually administer “field tests” on drugs. That term sounds somewhat scientific. But, in most cases, a “field test” is a sensory test (i.e. it looks, smells, and tastes like something illegal).

Frequently, a Tampa criminal defense lawyer orders re-testing. An independent expert’s results are usually different from a police technician’s results. Some drugs are watered down with other substances to the point that they’re no longer illegal.

Additionally, tales of outright police fraud (i.e. heroin that was actually Tide laundry detergent) pop up from time to time.

This discussion is moot unless the state produces the alleged illegal substance in court. Physical evidence is inadmissible unless officers had a valid search warrant or a search warrant exception applied.

Search warrants must be based on probable cause. An officer’s speculation, or an informant’s speculation, isn’t probable cause. Common search warrant exceptions include owner consent, plain view, and evidence seized during a stop-and-frisk search.


The aforementioned locked glove box, or similar situation, could affect the knowledge requirement, control requirement, or both requirements.

Most people have no idea what’s inside the glove box of a car they don’t own. They also don’t know what’s inside closed containers, such as zipped-up backpacks, that belong to someone else. Florida law requires specific knowledge. Charging documents usually name the substance found. So, the defendant must know that this particular substance, not “something illegal,” was inside the box.

On a similar note, most people don’t have any control over the contents of a locked glove box, unless they have a key and are sitting in the front passenger side seat.

Rely on a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.



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