The Three Ps Of Drug Possession
In the late 1980s, mostly in response to the drug overdose death of college basketball standout Len Bias, lawmakers approved a slew of harsh anti-drug laws. Extremely aggressive enforcement of these laws continued until the late 2000s. At that time, lawmakers began rolling back some of the harsh laws. Moreover, former President Barack Obama pardoned thousands of people who had been sentenced under these laws. At the same time, changing public perceptions about drug use, as evidenced by the growing marijuana legalization movement, prompted authorities to temper their enforcement.
But the War on Drugs continues. Annually, authorities arrest more than a million people for drug-related offenses. Over 80 percent of these arrests are for simple possession. However, as outlined below, there is a significant difference between a drug possession charge and a drug possession conviction. These charges often don’t hold up in court.
Due to the changing environment, a Tampa drug crime attorney can often successfully resolve drug possession charges, especially since these prosecutions have so many moving parts. This successful resolution could be a complete dismissal of charges, a plea to a lesser-included offense, like reckless conduct or possession of drug paraphernalia, or a not guilty verdict at trial. Drug possession charges have significant direct and collateral consequences. So, any of these resolutions greatly benefits the defendant, now and in the future.
Produce the Substance in Court
Physical evidence, like illegal drugs, is only admissible in court if police officers had a valid search warrant, or a limited search warrant exception applied.
Generally, officers don’t have search warrants in drug possession cases. Typically in these cases, officers stumble upon drugs during a traffic stop or during a response to a disturbance call. So, Hillsborough County prosecutors must rely on a search warrant exception. Some prominent ones include:
- Consent: Property owners, like vehicle owners, may give voluntary consent to search their property. Frequently, voluntariness, or lack thereof, is an issue in these searches. If officers threaten to get search warrants unless owners consent, their permission is arguably not 100 percent voluntary.
- Exigent Circumstances: If officers reasonably believe someone might be in trouble, perhaps because they responded to a report about a fight at a party, they may enter a house or other building and conduct a safety check. During this security sweep, they may seize any contraband they see in plain view.
The plain view doctrine is also a standalone search warrant exception. If officers see an illegal item, they do not need a judge’s permission to seize it.
Prove It Was Illegal
There is a major difference between unscientific “field tests” and chemical laboratory tests. Marijuana, which is generally illegal under federal and state law, is a good example. This substance has the same physical qualities as hemp, which is 100 percent legal under state and federal law. Only a THC content test can distinguish between the two.
Oxycontin and other prescription pain pills are in a special category. Almost no one retains written prescriptions. Furthermore, many people do not keep their pills in a labeled bottle. Instead, they put them in a pill caddy or other container. Police officers usually do not believe defendants if they say they have a valid prescription. Producing a valid prescription is usually a fatal weakness in terms of the evidence in the case.
Possession, which basically means proximity in this context, is defined very broadly in both state and federal law. For example, a pickup truck’s bed and a passenger car’s trunk are usually part of the passenger area, even though passengers usually have no access to these areas, at least while the vehicle is moving.
The other two elements of possession are knowledge and control. Federal and state law defines these elements much more narrowly. In fact, in many cases, a defendant could literally be sitting on illegal drugs and not legally possess them.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. After hours, home, and jail visits are available.