Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

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.

Prison CellsDefendant 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.

cash stacksBail 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.

Squad CarA 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.

Bike on grassA 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.

gun and moneyTwo 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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