The Three Ps Of Drug Possession Charges In Florida
If you thought the War on Drugs was over, think again. True, the harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences which lawmakers approved in the 1980s are largely gone. But Florida peace officers still make tens of thousands of drug arrests every year. 80 percent of them are for simple possession. In most cases, it is a felony to possess even a minute quantity of drugs, like a single Oxycontin pill.
The good news is that many jurors now see drug use as a social issue, as opposed to a criminal law issue. Additionally, many jurors now question the aggressive tactics that peace officers often use to make drug arrests. As a result, it’s easier for a Tampa drug crime attorney to successfully resolve these charges, especially since drug possession cases have a number of moving parts.
Produce the Substance
Before the case can go forward, prosecutors must produce the contraband in court. In order to do so, police officers must have had a warrant or a narrow search warrant exception must have applied.
According to the Fourth Amendment, a judge may only issue a search warrant if police officers submit affidavits that show probable cause. Police officers rarely have probable cause in drug possession cases. Typically, these arrests begin with traffic stops. Then, during a subsequent investigation, peace officers stumble upon drugs or other contraband.
Therefore, most drug possession prosecutions depend on search warrant exceptions. Some common ones in these cases include:
- Consent: Property owners may consent to property searches. The property could be something big, like a house, or something small, like a purse. Apparent owners, who are people like a roommate whose name isn’t on the lease, can also give consent in some cases.
- Exigent Circumstances: Peace officers often use this exception as an excuse to search a dwelling when they respond to a disturbance call. Technically, if they reasonably believe someone is in trouble, officers may conduct security sweeps to make sure everyone is okay. However, these searches are very limited and officers can only seize contraband they see in plain view.
- Plain View: This doctrine is also a standalone exception. If officers see contraband in plain view, perhaps in a vehicle during a traffic stop, they may seize it whether or not they have a warrant. This exception only applies if the initial stop or other law enforcement contact was legal.
Other search warrant exceptions include stop-and-frisk searches, the automobile exception, and a search incident to an arrest. However, various state and federal laws sharply limit these exceptions, so they don’t come up very often.
Prove it Was Illegal
Peace officers invariably claim that a substance “field-tested” positive as drugs. These unscientific field tests usually don’t hold up in court.
A scientific lab test, on the other hand, is generally reliable. However, there must be no significant gap in the chain of custody. Furthermore, Tampa criminal defense attorneys often order independent tests in these situations. Frequently, these results are markedly different from the ones police lab technicians claim they obtained.
On a related note, the list of illegal substances is constantly changing in Florida. Synthetic marijuana is a good example. Frequently, these substances are legal, simply because lawmakers haven’t added them to the prohibited list.
Possession in Hillsborough County Criminal Courts
In criminal court, possession is not synonymous with proximity. Prosecutors must also establish knowledge and control. And, they must establish these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assume Ted is a guest in Bill’s house. Police show up to break up a loud party, and Bill gives them consent to search the house. During this search, they find a stash of drugs under a sofa Ted is sitting on.
Most likely, if officers charge Ted with drug possession, the judge would throw the case out of court. There’s little or no evidence that Ted knew the drugs were there.
Work with a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney
Drug possession charges often don’t hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.