West Palm Beach Drug Defense Attorney
How Do Drug Charges Work in Florida?
Drug charges are not taken lightly in the state of Florida. Getting convicted of a drug charge can lead to harsh consequences such as paying high fines and imprisonment. In addition, carrying a drug charge conviction can affect a person's ability to find housing or a job.
Being accused of a drug offense can be frightening but working with an experienced defense attorney is the best way to fight a drug charge. There may be ways to reduce charges or have them dropped completely.
Controlled Substances in Florida
Controlled Substances are classified into varying schedules under Florida’s Drug Schedule. Controlled substances can range from a Schedule I to a Schedule V depending on the potential for medical use, potential of abuse, and results of abuse. Florida Statute Section 893.03 explains that Schedule V has the lowest possibility for potential abuse, meaning it carries less harsh penalties. However, Schedule I controlled substances have the highest potential for abuse, meaning it carries the most severe penalties.
The following is a list of each Florida Drug Schedule with examples:
- Schedule I: No current accepted medical use in the U.S., does not meet medical safety standards, and has a high potential for abuse. Examples include:
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Psilocybin (Hallucinogenic mushrooms)
- Schedule II: Has a current but severely restricted medical use in treatment in the U.S. but still has the high potential of abuse which could lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples include:
- Schedule III: Has a current accepted medical use in the U.S. but could still lead to moderate physical dependence. It can still lead to high psychological dependence or lead to physical damage. Still holds the potential for abuse but less than the substances under Schedule I or II. Examples include:
- Schedule IV: Has a current accepted medical use in the U.S. and has a low potential abuse in relation to Schedule I-III. Potential abuse can still lead to limited physical or psychological dependence relative to the Schedule III substances. Examples include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Schedule V: Has a current accepted medical use in the U.S. and has a low potential for abuse in relation to the substances in Schedule IV. Abuse of such compound, mixture, or preparation may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence. Examples include:
- Centussin DHC
- Poly-Tussin AC
To view the full Florida Drug Schedule, refer to the Statute page here.
Drug Charges in Florida
Florida has varying drug charges ranging in degrees of severity when it comes to criminalization and sentencing. Drug charges can range from a low-level misdemeanor to more serious felony charges. The Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act under Florida Statute section 893.13 lists the following most-common examples of drug offenses in Florida:
- Possession of a Controlled Substance – Drug possession charges are broken down into actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance. A charge of possession of a controlled substance can result in fines, jail time, or both depending on what Schedule the controlled substance is listed under.
- Illegal Possession of Prescription Drugs – An individual who has actual or constructive possession of a prescription drug without a valid prescription may result in criminal charges.
- Possession with the Intent to Sell – An individual caught with a large amount of drugs, or who meet certain other criteria, may be charged with the intent to sell. Evidence that could result in possession with the intent to sell includes the amount of controlled substance in possession, the possession of scales, baggies, or other items which indicate an intent to sell narcotics.
- Drug Trafficking – Drug trafficking in Florida is based upon the weight of the drugs in question. Different quantities are required to meet the definition of trafficking, depending on the drug.
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia – Drug “paraphernalia” refers to bongs, pipes, needles, rolling papers, aerosol cans, balloons, spoons, roach clips, etc. Drug paraphernalia is often found in cases involving possession charges. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor offense.
Possession of a Controlled Substance
When a defendant has the personal knowledge and illegal possession of a controlled substance, they can be charged with possession of a controlled substance. Incriminating evidence used in a drug possession charge is split into two categories: the actual or constructive possession of an illicit substance.
Actual possession of a controlled substance is defined as the accused person holding the physical possession of a controlled substance. This can be in their hand, in a pocket, or within immediate reach or control.
An example of actual possession in a criminal case would go as follows: A police officer pulls over a driver for reckless driving. During the traffic stop, the officer finds marijuana in the driver’s glove box. The accused person is believed to have the singular control over the controlled substance. The driver could then be charged with actual possession of a controlled substance.
Constructive possession of a controlled substance can be slightly trickier to prove. For a person to be charged with constructive possession, they must have known or been aware of the existence of a controlled substance, ultimately holding control over them. The difference between actual and constructive possession is that the defendant doesn’t need to have the illegal substances on their person to be charged with constructive possession. Two or more persons can be charged with constructive possession of the same controlled substance.
An example of constructive possession in a criminal case would go as follows: Police officers arrive at a party for a complaint about noise and potential drug use. With a warrant to search the home, officers find multiple controlled substances at the party. Any of the partygoers could be charged with constructive possession of the controlled substance, even if they personally are not in possession of anything. It is the knowledge of the existence of the controlled substances, and the ability to control the same, which may result in a constructive possession charge.
Drug Possession Penalties
Getting caught with the possession of a controlled substance in Florida can lead to harsh consequences. If convicted, the resulting penalties include expensive fines, potential imprisonment, and the stigma of holding a criminal record. Specific penalties depend on the nature of the offense, the type of controlled substance, and its quantity.
Florida Statute Section 893.13 explains the range of penalties for common drug possession charges:
- Second-Degree Misdemeanor – Up to $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail
- First-Degree Misdemeanor – Up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in jail
- Third-Degree Felony – Up to $5,000 in fines and up to five years of imprisonment
- Second-Degree Felony – Up to $10,000 in fines and up to 15 years in prison
- First-Degree Felony – Up to $10,000 in fines and up to 30 years in prison
In addition to the penalties listed above, a person accused of drug possession may also be required to complete probation, attend substance abuse treatment, undergo random drug testing, or complete required community service hours. Drug possession charges can also impact an individual’s career, military status, college education, and permanent criminal record. Most drug convictions in Florida also carry with them a mandatory driver license suspension.
Important: Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 322.055, any person who is convicted of a possession charge would result in getting their driver’s license revoked for a minimum 180 days and a maximum of one year.
The state of Florida has more serious charges for individuals accused of distributing or trafficking controlled substances.
Drug Distribution Charges
An individual can be charged with drug distribution charges when accused of selling, delivering, or providing controlled substances to other people. Police officers investigating a distribution case will try to examine how and where the controlled substances were moved.
Under Florida Statute Section 893.13, it is unlawful for any individual to sell, manufacture, deliver, or possess with the intent to sell, distribute, or manufacture a controlled substance. Along with drug possession charges, the penalties for a person charged with possession with the intent to sell in Florida vary depending on the type of drug and its quantity.
Possession with the intent to sell differs from a standard drug possession charge by only a few distinctions. The following is a list of factors that could enhance a possession charge to a possession with the intent to sell charge:
- Presence of drug paraphernalia or packaging that implies the shipment of a controlled substance;
- How the substance(s) were packaged when found in the defendant's possession;
- Large quantities of a controlled substance;
- Large quantities of cash or weapons; or
- The defendant admitting that they were selling or attempting to sell illegal substances.
If an individual is accused of possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell, they can receive penalties ranging from a first-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. The following is a list of penalties based on different levels of the Drug Schedule:
- Schedule V: First-degree misdemeanor
- Schedule IV or III: Third-degree felony
- Schedule II or I: Second-degree felony
Drug Trafficking Charges
Drug trafficking is defined as the possession of a certain threshold quantity of a controlled substance. Many people imagine drug cartels or other pop-culture references when thinking of drug trafficking. However, unlawful pain clinics or “pill mills” can also be classified as drug trafficking operations.
Getting convicted of a drug trafficking charge is extremely serious. This is partly because a person can receive both state and federal charges which carry minimum mandatory prison sentences. Commonly trafficked controlled substances include:
- Psilocybin “Magic Mushrooms”
Similar to possession and distribution charges, a person charged with drug trafficking may have varying penalties depending on the type of controlled substance and where it lies on the Florida Drug Schedule. Two of Florida’s most commonly trafficking controlled substances include cocaine and marijuana. Under Florida Statute Section 893.135, the following is a list of penalties for trafficking the two illicit substances:
- Quantity between 28 and 200 grams = Up to $50,000 in fines and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
- Quantity between 200 and 400 grams = Up to $100,000 in fines and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven years up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
- Quantity between 400 grams and 150 kilograms = Up to $250,000 in fines and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of fifteen years up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
- Quantity over 150 kilograms = Life in prison without the possibility of parole
- Quantity between 25 and 2,000 pounds (or 300+ cannabis plants) = Up to a $25,000 fine and a minimum sentence of three years in prison up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
- Quantity between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds (or 2,000+ cannabis plants) = Up to $50,000 in fines and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven years up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
- Quantity over 10,000 pounds (or 10,000+ cannabis plants) = Up to $200,000 in fines and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of fifteen years up to a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
Federal Drug Trafficking Charges
It is considered a federal offense to manufacture, distribute, or import controlled substances throughout the state, across state borders, or from a foreign country into the state of Florida. The Controlled Substances Act covers the five Drug Schedules to categorize each controlled substance, along with the process of enhancing or decreasing the Scheduled classified.
Defenses to Drug Charges
While an individual who has been charged with a drug offense may feel hopeless, an experienced defense will have a variety of strategies for defense. The following is a list of potential defenses to drug charges in Florida:
- Evidentiary: The State must establish all factual elements of a drug charge. Common evidentiary issues that can be used as a defense in a drug charge case includes:
- Factual disputes
- Inability to prove knowledge of the substance
- Lack of evidence proving control of the substance
- Joint possession
- Constitutional: Another possible defense is if there were any Constitutional violations during the course of the investigation. Most commonly, constitutional violations concern illegal search and seizure, illegal detention, or denial of access to an attorney.
- Pretrial Diversion Programs: Depending on the seriousness of the charge, and the programming available in a particular county, first-time offenders may have the option to obtain a dismissal through completion of a diversion program. This means that a defendant’s criminal charges can be dropped upon successful completion of the program’s conditions. The conditions will depend on factors like the nature of the charge, defendant’s history, and mitigating factors. Such conditions may include:
- Community service
- Drug evaluations
- Drug treatment
To figure out which defense is applicable to your case, contact a skilled defense attorney in your area.
Florida Drug Resources
Palm Beach and Broward Counties
Drug Court Treatment Program – Alternative to incarceration for first-time, non-violent offenders of substance-related charges. PTI participants may be eligible for dismissed charges for completing the program.
Brevard Drug Court – Holistic approach to reducing criminal behavior through its Pretrial Intervention – an intensive program under supervision for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug offenders.
Palm Beach County
Finding a South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
Getting accused of a drug offense is extremely serious. The state of Florida is known to prosecute harshly for criminal cases involving controlled substances. A drug charge conviction can lead to a long line of harsh consequences. Expensive fines, imprisonment, and the stigma of carrying a drug charge on your permanent record are all possible outcomes. If you or someone you know has been accused of a drug crime, contact Ian Goldstein Law today. Call (561) 600-0950 today and receive a free consultation with a Palm Beach Drug Defense Lawyer regarding your case.