Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

Generally, the Government cannot introduce evidence that a person previously was convicted of a crime prove a person’s character to demonstrate that they acted in accordance with that character on a specific occasion. In other words, proof a person committed a crime on a prior occasion cannot be used to establish guilt in a current criminal proceeding. Evidence of other crimes and bad acts can be introduced for other purposes, however. In a recent opinion issued in a drug crime case, a Florida court discussed the grounds for admissibility of evidence of other crimes. If you are charged with a drug offense, you should confer with a Tampa drug crime defense lawyer to discuss what evidence the Government is permitted to use against you.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with multiple drug crimes arising out of his alleged conspiracy to possess methamphetamines. The defendant’s coconspirator pleaded guilty, while the defendant entered a not guilty plea. The Government sought to introduce the defendant’s two prior convictions for possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute at trial. The defendant moved to preclude the evidence as proof of other crimes, wrongs, and bad acts pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).

Admissibility of Other Crime Evidence

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) prohibits parties from using evidence of other acts, crimes, or wrongs to establish a person’s nature and to show that they acted in accord with that nature in a particular instance. Such evidence may be admissible for other purposes, though. Specifically, it can be used to show intent, motive, plan, knowledge, and identity, among other things. Continue Reading ›

In recognition of the fact that certain sentencing guidelines resulted in disparate sentences for similar crimes, the United States legislature passed a set of laws that rendered people convicted of drug crimes involving crack cocaine eligible for reduced sentences. As discussed in a recent Florida ruling, though, mere eligibility is insufficient to demonstrate that such relief should be granted. If you were convicted of a drug offense, you might be eligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to recent changes in the law, and it is advisable to speak to a trusted Tampa drug crime defense lawyer about your options.

The Defendant’s Conviction

It is reported that in 2005, a jury convicted the defendant of numerous offenses, including possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute. Due to his prior history of drug crimes and the quantity of crack cocaine in his possession, he was subject to a mandatory life sentence. The district court ultimately imposed a sentence of life plus fifteen years imprisonment, followed by ten years of supervised release. After Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 and the First Step Act in 2018, the defendant moved to reduce his sentence. The trial court granted his motion in part, reducing his sentence to 420 months in prison followed by eight years of supervised release. The defendant appealed, arguing the court abused its discretion in not reducing his sentence further.

While owning a gun, in and of itself, is not a crime for most people, when a person found guilty of committing a drug offense, has a gun, it can result in increased penalties. In other words, a sentencing court may impose a firearm enhancement in some instances. Recently, a Florida court discussed what the prosecution must prove to justify such an enhancement in a case in which the defendant argued his sentence for drug trafficking was improper. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a capable Tampa criminal defense lawyer about your potential defenses.

The History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was indicted by a grand jury with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. He entered a guilty plea. The Presentencing Investigation Report (PSI) indicated that following the defendant’s arrest for the charged offenses, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent obtained a warrant to search his residence and found a pistol near his bed.

It is reported that the probation office applied an enhancement for the defendant’s possession of a dangerous weapon in determining his offense level and recommended a sentence of 60 to 71 months’ imprisonment. Before sentencing, both the defendant and the prosecution objected to the firearm enhancement. The court overruled the objections and sentenced the defendant to 62 months in prison, after which he appealed. Continue Reading ›

Florida has some of the toughest drug laws in the entire country. If you are arrested for drug possession in our state, you could be looking at serious criminal penalties—potentially including a lengthy prison sentence. 

Did you know that you can be charged with and convicted of drug possession even if a controlled substance is never actually discovered in your hands or on your person? 

It is called “constructive possession”—and it occurs when someone maintains control over a banned substance without having it within their physical grasp. 

In Florida criminal cases that are tried in front of a jury, the jury is responsible for assessing the evidence presented and issuing a verdict based on its assessment. The jury’s verdict will generally not be disturbed unless it is clearly against the weight of the evidence. If a court finds a jury’s verdict is not supported by the evidence of record, it may order a new trial.

A District Court of Appeal of Florida recently explained the standard for review for determining whether a verdict is against the weight of the evidence, in a case in which it affirmed the trial court’s order issuing a new trial. If you live in Tampa and are charged with a crime, it is important to retain an effective Tampa criminal defense attorney to help you protect your liberties.

The Defendant’s Arrest and Trial

Allegedly, the defendant was suspected of selling controlled substances. In an attempt to build its case against the defendant, the State wiretapped an informant and sent the information to the store where the defendant worked. The video footage obtained from the informant did not contain any evidence of a drug transaction. The State charged the defendant with selling a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a childcare facility and with possession of a controlled substance with an intent to sell.

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The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution provides that a defendant can only be convicted of the crimes charged in the indictment. In some cases, the court will allow a conviction despite the fact that the evidence produced is insufficient to prove the specific crime listed in the indictment. A conviction for a crime other than the crimes listed in the indictment is often based on a constructive amendment of the indictment which is impermissible and can result in a reversal of the conviction.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained the grounds for a reversal based on a constructive amendment in a case where the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute one of the four drugs listed in the indictment. If you are charged with a crime and currently live in Tampa, it is wise to obtain the services of a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney to help you seek the best possible legal outcome under the facts of your case.

The Defendant’s Indictment and Conviction

Reportedly, the indictment charged the defendant with conspiring to distribute a controlled substance. The indictment listed four drugs as the controlled substances the defendant allegedly conspired to distribute. Following a trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of conspiring to distribute as to only one of the drugs listed. The defendant appealed, arguing that the court constructively amended the indictment to allow the government to obtain a conviction due to evidence that the defendant conspired to distribute only one of the drugs rather than all four.

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One of the things that makes the law so complicated is that words need to be specifically defined. For example, the word “possession.” Outside of the legal context, it’s usually clear when someone is in possession of something and when they are not. However, when jail time and other serious penalties are on the line, the law needs to specifically define all the language that makes up the elements of a crime.

How Are the Definitions Developed?

When the Florida state legislature passes a new law, usually included in the law is a section where specific words are defined. Of course the definition cannot possibly contemplate all the situations that may come up. That is where case law comes into play. Throughout time as the courts handle each individual case, their decisions clarify what counts as (in this case) possession and what doesn’t. Over time more and more situations are clarified and that’s how the definition is developed. One of the important things that your skilled Florida drug crimes criminal defense attorney can do for you is to use the case law to argue that your actions do not fit the specific definition of the crime.

That is what happened here. After a shootout between cars leaving a gas station, police found a cup filled with marijuana. The cup was lying on the ground next to the fence that marked the property line of the gas station. The police also found cocaine in one of the cars involved in the shootout, along with the defendant who was bleeding from a gunshot wound. The defendant was arrested for drug crimes related to both the cocaine and marijuana.

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“Innocent until proven guilty” is one of the foundations of our criminal justice system. It is not just an expression, but a requirement that the state have enough evidence against defendants to sufficiently prove whatever is alleged. Therefore, in order to convict someone for a crime, the state must prove all of the elements of the crime. If there is not sufficient evidence of one or more elements of the crime then the charge (or conviction if it’s an appeal) should be thrown out. In a case heard by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy was thrown out after the appeals court held that there was not sufficient evidence as to one of the elements of the crime. A skilled Tampa drug crimes defense attorney may be able to help you to get charges thrown out if the state does not meet their burden of proof as to all the elements of the crime.

Conspiracy in Florida

In order to prove that a conspiracy has been committed, Florida law requires the state to show that there was an agreement to commit an offense. In this instance, the state presented evidence to show that the defendant’s boyfriend met with a criminal informant to sell him cocaine. He had apparently sold small amounts of the drug to the informant in the past, but this time was planning to sell a larger amount. They planned to meet in the parking lot of a shopping center. The defendant testified that her boyfriend came to her house and asked her to drive him to the store in his car.

The U.S. Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. If evidence was gained by the police through illegal means, that evidence can be suppressed. Suppression means that the evidence cannot be presented in court. If evidence that should have been suppressed is presented, and there is a conviction, that conviction can be overturned. There are many possible ways that a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can try to get evidence against you suppressed.Warrants and Searches

When a search warrant is issued, it will have a description of the specific places that are allowed to be searched. In this case, the warrant permitted the police to search three motel rooms, any people who were believed to be involved in the crime, the curtilage, and any vehicles located in the curtilage. The SWAT team came in to perform the search. During the search, they saw the defendant leave one of the hotel rooms and walk to his car, which was parked a few feet away in the parking lot of the motel. He got into his car, and as he tried to leave, he was stopped by law enforcement, blocking him in. Then he got out of his car and lay on the ground. The officer searched his car and found drugs.

The question raised on this appeal was whether the search was legal. In other words, was the defendant’s car located in a place that was covered by the warrant? The answer rested on the definition of curtilage. If the defendant’s car was parked in the “curtilage,” the search was legal. If it was not part of the curtilage, the search was illegal and should be suppressed.

Florida cops and courts treat drug and other related crimes very seriously. A conviction can come with significant consequences, including long stretches behind bars and significant money penalties. Many drug cases also often involve the confiscation of money and other property seized by police officers during an investigation. As a recent case out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals makes clear, it can be tough to get that money back. State law creates only a small window of time to file a request to return seized property.

The defendant was charged with drug trafficking and money laundering following a 2006 police surveillance operation. Officers observed him pacing back and forth and talking on his cell phone for about 15 minutes before the defendant placed a black duffle bag in his car and drove off. They said he drove erratically to another location, where another man removed a black rolling suitcase from the defendant’s car. An undercover officer approached the two men and the defendant eventually consented to having the car searched, according to the court. The cops found “a significant amount” of cocaine and $738,000 in cash in the duffle bag inside the car.

The defendant was convicted two years later and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Law enforcement officers also seized the money from the duffle bag. A state court denied Defendant’s request to force the return of the money. The court cited a Florida statute that provides that any property lawfully seized by a law enforcement agency becomes the property of that agency 60 days after the closure of court proceedings related to the property. The court said the defendant filed his request outside of that 60-day window.

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