Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

behind barsOne 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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conspiracy“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.Legal News Gavel

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.

Legal News GavelFlorida 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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Legal News GavelPolice officers must have reasonable suspicion to believe that you’re committing a crime in order to stop your car on the road. They need to have probable cause—a higher bar—to actually search the car. These are two important protections for anyone suspected of or charged with a Florida crime. But, as the state’s Third District Court of Appeal recently pointed out, there are many ways in which the cops can legally stop your car and search it.

Defendant was charged with possession with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver a controlled substance after a police officer found Xanax pills in Defendant’s car. The officer, who was in an unmarked car investigating unrelated crimes in the area, said he originally pulled Defendant over because he noticed part of Defendant’s license plate was obscured. A metal frame was blocking “MyFlorida.com” from the top portion of the license plate and “Sunshine State” from the bottom portion. The officer said he searched the car because he smelled marijuana inside.

A trial judge agreed with Defendant that the search was illegal. As a result, the judge granted Defendant’s request to suppress all of the evidence gained during the stop, including the Xanax pills. The Third District reversed that decision on appeal, however, finding that state law gave the officer the right to pull Defendant’s car over.

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Plea agreements can be useful tools for anyone facing criminal charges in Florida. These deals allow you to resolve criminal charges without at least some of the time, expense, and stress that come with a full-blown trial. They may also give a criminal defendant the leverage to reduce the punishment that comes with a conviction. It is important to remember, however, that these deals are binding legal agreements that you probably can’t go back and change later down the road. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is a good example of that point.

Legal News GavelDefendant was charged with introduction into interstate commerce of misbranded drugs, a federal crime, stemming from his alleged involvement in a synthetic marijuana business. According to prosecutors, the products “were manufactured by applying chemicals (synthetic cannabinoids) to plant material to create a product which users would smoke for a ‘high.’” The products were intended to be smoked, the prosecutors said, but they were not properly labeled. The prosecutors said the packaging indicated that the products were “not for human consumption” and that they included potpourri and incense. The packaging didn’t correctly identify the synthetic marijuana and didn’t include adequate directions for using the drug, according to prosecutors.

Defendant eventually entered into a plea agreement. As part of the deal, he agreed to waive his right to appeal the sentence eventually handed down by a judge. He nevertheless filed a motion to vacate the sentence after it was handed down. Defendant argued that the trial judge wrongly concluded that the fraud involved $1.9 million in business from the synthetic drugs. He said the amount was actually less than that because he was involved in the business for 10 months rather than 17 months.

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A state appeals court in Lakeland recently issued an important decision that could have a significant impact on anyone charged with a Florida drug crime. The court pumped the brakes on what it called an increasingly common move to prevent a person charged with a crime from being released from jail pending trial, even when he or she has paid bail. Some judges in the Sunshine State and across the country had been slowing the release process by saying they want to look into how the person came up with the bail money. Thanks to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, those questions are now out of bounds.

Legal News GavelBail is a form of insurance for the criminal justice system. A person charged with a crime generally has the option to put up a certain amount of bail money in exchange for his or her release pending trial. The person gets the money back if he or she shows up at the trial. The idea is that the money ensures that the person will return to court.

The Second District case centered on a Florida man charged with various drug crimes. The judge hearing his case set the man’s bail but agreed with prosecutors to continue holding the man in jail pending a so-called “Nebbia” hearing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a 1966 case called United States v. Nebbia ruled that trial courts have discretion to look into how a person intends to pay bail in order to gauge whether he or she will show up for trial if released. Although that kind of hold may be allowable under federal court rules, the Florida appeals court said there was nothing in the state law justifying the move.

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Search and seizure issues often come up in Florida drug crime cases. Generally, police are required to get a warrant from a judge in order to search a person’s home, car, or even cell phone records. In many cases, however, courts have said the warrant requirement may not be feasible. That’s why police can sometimes search cars without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of a crime inside. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained how the car search exception works in a Bay County drug case.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with three drug crimes in 2013. He was released from prison while awaiting trial on those charges when he failed to show up at a pretrial conference. A court in Bay County issued a warrant for his arrest. The court issued a second arrest warrant in 2014, when he failed to show for a hearing in a separate criminal mischief case. U.S. Marshals eventually used cell phone data to track him to a Dollar General store – thanks to another warrant, this time allowing cops to search his phone info – where they found and arrested him. The officers also found the key to a Ford Taurus and a gun in a plastic bag on his person. They located the car – which the officers said smelled heavily of marijuana – and found a variety of drugs, five more guns, and $6,700 in cash. The defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute various drugs and possession of firearms.

At trial, his lawyers asked a federal judge to exclude the firearms and drug evidence gained from the Ford Taurus from the case against him. The judge rejected that request, finding that the officers had probable cause to search the car based on the smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The defendant was eventually convicted on all of the charges and sentenced to nearly nine years in prison.

Federal and state laws substantially limit the circumstances in which police officers can search you or your stuff without a warrant. Those limits often come into play in Florida drug crime cases, in which debates over how the drugs in question were uncovered by the police can make or break a case. A recent decision from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal sheds some light on how judges look at search and seizure questions.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with possession of marijuana, oxycodone, and drug paraphernalia following an incident in which Miami police officers stopped him in an area known as a haven for illegal dirt bike driving. State and local laws generally ban people from riding motorized dirt bikes on public streets. A pair of police officers monitoring the area heard the roar of a dirt bike and saw the defendant driving in their direction. The bike did not have headlights, taillights, turn signals, or a license plate. The officers followed in their patrol car. They activated their lights and siren after the defendant ran a red light. He tried to speed away but fell off the bike.

The cops apprehended the defendant and handcuffed him. They also searched his backpack after he said he had proof that he owned the bike in the front compartment of the bag. Although the defendant specifically asked the officers not to look in the main compartment, they did so after smelling marijuana. They found marijuana, oxycodone, and drug paraphernalia. The defendant eventually entered a guilty plea after a judge refused to exclude the backpack evidence from the case against him.

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Conspiracy is a common charge in Florida drug cases that generally refers to an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. Many conspiracy cases succeed or fail based on whether prosecutors can actually prove such an agreement. As Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained, however, prosecutors also have to prove the intent to commit the crime.

Legal News GavelTwo defendants were charged with a number of criminal offenses stemming from a shooting and alleged drug conspiracy in Hillsborough County. Prosecutors presented evidence, according to the court, showing that a third man had called one of the defendants to arrange the purchase of a small amount of marijuana. The third man, who the court says suffers from a debilitating medical condition that he treats with marijuana, arrived at the designated transaction place in a car driven by his mother. He called the defendant several times after arriving at the spot. When the two defendants approached the car, the man tried to direct their attention to his mother, who was waving a $20 bill. The defendant who talked to the man on the phone responded by saying “my homeboy’s got it.” He allegedly pulled a gun on the man shortly thereafter and shot the man’s mother in the face when the car sped off.

The defendant who did not talk to the victim on the phone, whose case was separated from the other defendant’s case for trial, was eventually convicted of principal to felony battery causing great bodily harm and conspiracy to deliver less than 20 grams of cannabis. The Second District affirmed the first conviction on appeal. It overturned the drug conviction, however, finding that prosecutors failed to prove a conspiracy. The court explained that prosecutors had to show that the defendant intended to deliver marijuana to the victim and that he “agreed, conspired, combined, or confederated” with another person to deliver the marijuana. There was no evidence of either element of the criminal offense, the court said.

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