Articles Posted in Drug Crime

Search and seizure laws offer important protections to anyone suspected of or charged with a Florida drug crime or another crime. These laws set the ground rules for when police officers can stop a person on the street, pull over a car, or enter a home without a warrant. They also set strict limits on when the cops can search a person and his or her car and home. In a recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the privacy expectations that are at the center of many of these protections. The justices limited police officers’ ability to search rental vehicles.

Supreme CourthouseThe defendant was driving a rental car when police officers stopped him outside Pittsburgh. The woman who had rented the vehicle gave the defendant the keys to the car, even though his name wasn’t on the rental agreement, and he wasn’t authorized to drive the vehicle. State troopers searched the car’s trunk, where they found 49 bricks of heroin and some body armor. They turned that evidence over to federal authorities, who charged the defendant with various drug crimes.

A federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence should be excluded at trial because it was obtained in an unlawful search. But the Supreme Court eventually sided with the defendant.

A conviction for a drug crime in Florida can come with significant penalties, including substantial time behind bars. In some cases, a judge has the right to makes those penalties worse based on the circumstances of the crime or the person’s criminal history. For example, state law provides for stiffer penalties for people who are designated as “habitual offenders” based on previous felony convictions. There are a number of defenses to this designation, however. That includes challenging the actual criminal charges against you and fighting the designation itself. As a recent case out of Florida’s Second District shows, certain crimes are exempt from the habitual offender tag.

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A defendant was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted for charges of possession of cocaine, a third-degree felony, and sale of cocaine, a second-degree felony. He was designated a habitual offender for both offenses based on his prior criminal history. Habitual offender status applies to situations in which a person has been convicted of two or more separate felonies over a certain time period. The current felony must have been committed while the person was in jail on another felony conviction or within five years of his or her release from imprisonment.

Reversing the decision on appeal, the Second District said the judge made a mistake by treating the defendant as a habitual offender for the possession charge. Florida law exempts from the habitual offender scheme criminal charges involving the purchase or possession of drugs. The court cited its own 2006 decision in a case called Coleman v. State. In that case, a criminal defendant was also given habitual offender status for cocaine possession. The Second District overturned that decision.

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The “double jeopardy” rule essentially provides that a person can’t be charged more than once for the same crime. It bars prosecutors from seeking to recharge a person for the same crime after being acquitted, convicted, or found not guilty. It also stops them from seeking double punishment for the same crime. The rule is an important legal protection for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. The state’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained how the rule works in a drug case out of Polk County.drugs

A defendant was arrested and charged with three criminal offenses after he allegedly sold cocaine to an undercover police officer using a confidential informant. He had one stash of the drug that he removed from a nightstand to sell a portion to the informant, according to the court. Prosecutors charged him with delivery of cocaine (a second-degree felony), possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver (a second-degree felony), and possession of cocaine (a third-degree felony). He was convicted on all three charges.

The defendant later appealed the conviction, arguing that it violated the double jeopardy rule. Specifically, he claimed that he could not be charged with both cocaine possession with intent to sell and cocaine possession, generally stemming from the same incident. The Second Circuit agreed.

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Police often use confidential informants to bolster criminal investigations, including in drug cases. These sources may have criminal records themselves, and cops’ reliance on informants raises a variety of legal issues. That’s especially true in situations in which the person charged with a crime says the police got the wrong man, as Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals recently pointed out.

white pillsA defendant was arrested and charged with numerous drug offenses after he allegedly sold hydrocodone and cocaine to an undercover St. Petersburg police officer. A confidential police informant set up the first transaction by contacting his brother. The CI and undercover officers met the brother and a person he introduced as “Dino” at a convenience store. Dino sold the officer Fioricet pills, which he said were hydrocodone. Dino contacted the officer to sell him actual hydrocodone pills two weeks later. It was another five months before the third and final transaction. The officer contacted Dino, who said he didn’t have hydrocodone but sold the officer an eight ball of cocaine instead.

The officer had some trouble finding out the defendant’s true identity. He took the plate number from the brother’s car and found police records from a traffic stop in which the defendant was in the car. He then found a photo of the defendant and identified him as “Dino.” Although the defendant claimed that the officer had found the wrong guy, he was convicted following a trial.

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Many criminal drug cases come down to search and seizure issues concerning how law enforcement gains evidence of the alleged crime. Generally, police officers need a warrant from a judge in order to search your home or other property. There are several exceptions to this rule, but even cases in which a search warrant has been issued can raise tricky legal issues. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is a good example of how cops can establish probable cause to get a warrant in drug cases.

marijuana plantsTwo defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, stemming from their alleged roles in an Orlando marijuana trafficking operation. Much of the evidence against the pair came from a series of property searches and surveillance operations conducted after Drug Enforcement Agency investigators obtained warrants from a federal judge. The defendants at trial later moved to block prosecutors from entering into the record any evidence obtained during the searches and surveillance operations. They argued that the investigators misled the judge by providing incomplete information on their warrant requests and that those requests didn’t establish the probable cause needed to justify the warrants.

The first warrant, which the DEA agents used to search a self-storage facility in Orlando, was based on information gained from a confidential source and from two undercover officers. The confidential source told agents that a South African drug dealer had been selling 200 pounds of marijuana a month to Dominican buyers in Orlando. He said the dealer had asked the source to contact the Dominicans about some $250,000 still owed for the drugs and to try to re-establish the relationship. The confidential source and two undercover agents met with Cassara and Almeida four times. They agreed to facilitate a marijuana sale to the Dominicans, according to the court. One defendant said he would load 25 pounds of marijuana in a truck and leave it for the Dominicans to pick up in exchange for leaving cash in the truck.

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Car at NightAs with many crimes, Florida drug possession can be prosecuted in a variety of different ways. It’s clear that if a person is arrested with contraband on his or her person, that might be used as evidence to prove the crime. However, what happens when the drug is present in an area where you are present, but it’s not actually on your person? It’s still possible for the State to seek a conviction under those circumstances based on what is known as “constructive possession.” A November 15, 2017 case, decided by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals, reversed the acquittal of the criminal defendant after the appeals court ruled that there was enough evidence to uphold the jury’s finding of possession of cocaine.

The defendant’s car was stopped after he was spotted parked in front of a house where a man walked up to the passenger side of the car, stayed for a few minutes, and then left. The police searched the defendant’s car and found a small rock of crack cocaine on the sliding track under the driver’s seat. There was no evidence at trial that the defendant owned the car or that anyone else drove or rode in the car regularly.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty; however, the judge overruled the jury and acquitted the defendant because of a lack of evidence. The State appealed the judge’s decision.

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