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Search And Seizure Issues In Prescription Drug Possession Cases In Court


If you thought the War on Drugs was over, think again. This campaign is still going strong. The number of arrests has risen steadily since the 1990s, and about 80 percent of them are for simple possession. Although police are very aggressive in making arrests, as outlined below, these charges often don’s hold up in court.

The stakes for prescription drug possession charges are particularly high. Usually, the quantity of illegal substances determines the level of criminal charges. Marijuana is a good example. Possession of a small quantity is a misdemeanor and possession of a large quantity is a felony. But in most cases, one illegal Oxycontin or other pill could be a felony.

In high stakes games like these, you need a dedicated Tampa drug crime attorney in your corner. A lawyer quickly evaluates prescription drug possession charges, identifies the weak spot in the case, and attacks it. This simple approach usually leads to a favorable plea bargain agreement, such as deferred disposition or pretrial diversion. These resolutions are almost the same thing as a dismissal of charges or a not guilty verdict at trial.

Search Warrants

As far as the state is concerned, this first hurdle might be the tallest one. Physical evidence, like a pill, is only admissible in court if officers had a valid search warrant or a narrow search warrant exception applies.

Search warrants must be based on probable cause. The uncorroborated testimony of an informant is not probable cause. That’s especially true if the informant cooperated with police to avoid being charged with a crime. Most people will say almost anything to save their own skins. These same principles apply to paid informants. Frequently, these individuals receive tens of thousands of dollars for the information they provide.

Search Warrant Exceptions

These warrants are rare in possession cases anyway. Officers rarely bother with search warrants in these situations. So, that leaves a search warrant exception, such as:

  • Exigent Circumstances: These searches are also known as welfare checks. If officers reasonably believe a person is in trouble, they may enter a dwelling or building without a warrant, conduct a brief security sweep to ensure everyone is okay, and seize any contraband they find in plain view.
  • Plain View: As a standalone exception, plain view often applies in vehicle stops. If an officer sees something like an open pill bottle, the officer may seize the item without a search warrant. This exception also applies in property searches and other scenarios.
  • Consent: This exception is probably the biggest one. Officers may search backpacks, smartphones, houses, locked boxes, and anything else, if the owner or apparent owner provides consent. An apparent owner is someone like a roommate whose name isn’t on the lease.

The state has the burden of proof in both search warrant situations. Prosecutors must establish that the warrant was valid or the search was reasonable. Prosecutors cannot work backwards. They cannot argue that since the officer found drugs, the warrant or basis must have been legitimate.

If the search warrant was invalid or the search was otherwise illegal, the evidence is inadmissible, according to the exclusionary rule. 

Count on a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney

Illegal prescription pills are often difficult to produce in court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. After-hours visits are available.


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