Habitual Offender Status in Florida Drug Crime Cases

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.

The court noted here, however, that the defendant’s conviction for selling cocaine was eligible for habitual offender status. “Only drug offenses relating to the purchase or the possession of controlled substances are exempt from habitualization,” the court said, citing its 2000 decision in Roberts v. State. That case involved a Florida man busted for holding marijuana and cocaine and for selling those drugs. “Defendants sentenced for offenses relating to the sale of narcotics do not enjoy the benefit of this statutory exemption.”

As a result, the Second District said it would hold the defendant’s case open and allow his attorney to file a challenge to the defendant’s habitual offender status for the possession conviction.

As this case makes clear, a drug conviction can come with serious consequences. If you or a loved one has been charged with cocaine trafficking or another drug crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater drug crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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