Illegal drug possession, drug sale, and drug trafficking are one of the most common charges faced by residents in Florida–and throughout the country.
The most recent national statistics show that each year, over 430 million people enter the United States and that around 116 million vehicles cross the United States border carrying over 400 million tons of cargo.
Florida is at the forefront of these issues, however, because our borders are frequently used to move drugs into the country. Our proximity to the Caribbean islands as well as the Gulf makes it a hot spot for drug-related activity. We are in an area where drug trafficking and distribution are common and where there are various criminal groups that take part in drug activity.
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As such, it is critical for local residents to have at least a basic understanding of the various drug crimes in Florida. In addition, it is particularly important to be familiar with how to handle police requests to search automobiles and residences. This requires knowledge of search and seizure law in both the United States context and the Florida context.
Drug Crimes in Florida
There are three kinds of drug crimes in Florida and, listed in ascending order of severity: drug possession, sale of drugs, and drug trafficking.
Drug possession is the least serious of the three-drug crimes and also the most common of the three in terms of occurrence. In order for prosecutors to obtain a conviction based on drug possession, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had either constructive or physical possession of the drug at issue. Constructive possession is defined as the drugs being within reasonable, obvious, and/or easy reach of the defendant. Even if the defendant did not have physical possession of the drugs, his having easy access to the drugs makes him liable for a conviction just as much as if he had the drugs in his physical possession. Possible penalties for drug possession in Florida include a misdemeanor if there is possession of marijuana or cannabis and a 3rd-degree felony for possession of any other illicit drug.
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Sale of drugs includes the actual selling of the drugs as well as any intent to sell or distribute drugs. Often, criminals who are involved in the selling of drugs end up getting busted because their customers tend to be undercover police officers. An undercover police officer is one who poses as a normal person such that the criminal would never suspect that the person is an officer. As such, the criminal defendant will proceed with their normal activities and this gives the undercover officer an opportunity to gather any needed evidence, such as conversations by the criminal that are recorded by a hidden recorder stashed underneath the officer’s clothing, in order to prove the crime in question occurred. Possible penalties for sale of drugs include second or third-degree felonies. This penalty can increase by one degree if there is a sale of drugs within 1000 feet of a school or church.
Drug trafficking is defined in Florida law as the sale, manufacture, delivery, or purchase of certain specified amounts of a specific illicit substance based on what the substance is. In Florida, possessing 25 pounds of marijuana, 28 grams of cocaine, or 4 grams of opiates constitutes drug trafficking. Also, if the criminal is caught with equipment that can be used to make certain illicit substances or if they are caught with a combination of ingredients that could be mixed together to form any illicit substance, that will also qualify as drug trafficking. The possible penalties vary based on what drug is involved and how much of it is involved, but it can range from 3 to 25 years of prison time as well as $25,000 to $500,000 fine. Obviously, crime does not pay and will most certainly land the criminals in hot water if and when they get caught.
Answering Police Requests to Search
Before one can understand how to handle police requests to search automobiles and houses, one must understand the law concerning the search of automobiles and houses.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that the government cannot conduct unreasonable searches and seizures in a person’s home and that a warrant cannot be issued unless there is probable cause the warrant describes in detail what places will be searched and what people or things will be seized. What this means, in a nutshell, is that people have a right to not have the police search their things unless they have a warrant or strong reason to believe that crime may be afoot and that they have a strong need to search the person and/or his possessions. This premise is meant to favor the defendant as courts feel that they should have a fair shake before facing the music.
Florida is no exception as it also applies this law as well to its officers. In particular, Florida law states that if there is no warrant or seizure order, exigent circumstances must exist before officers are allowed to search an automobile or one’s house. “Exigent circumstances” is a vague statement, but is defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that a search of the automobile or entry into the house without a warrant would be necessary in order to prevent the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, serious bodily harm to another person in the premises, or any other action which would impede law enforcement. What this means is that the circumstances would be such that the officer needs to search the car or enter the house so that they can do their job effectively without the criminal getting rid of the evidence, trying to flee, or killing or seriously injuring another person who might be in the house.
Protect Your Rights Against Illegal Search
The important question is how to handle police requests to search an automobile or a house. Based on what we know about criminal procedure in Florida, the police cannot search the defendant’s automobile or residence unless they have a warrant, or a seizure order, or if there are exigent circumstances that would allow them to bypass obtaining a warrant or getting a seizure order. Therefore, if a police officer asks a defendant whether or not they can search their automobile or house, the defendant can simply say no because they have a right to privacy to their personal things as established in the Fourth Amendment. If the police officer chooses not to listen to the defendant’s refusal and searches the automobile or house anyway, the defendant can have his lawyer file a motion to suppress the evidence and indicate to the court that the evidence found in the search should not be admitted because it was obtained in an illegal search and seizure. This is always the best strategy to deal with a police request to search an automobile or residence.