Florida Lawmakers Seek Tougher Drug Crimes Sentences
After it passed unanimously in the House, the Senate is considering a measure that would increase the penalties for some opioid and synthetic marijuana possession and trafficking offenses.
Additionally, if HB 477 becomes law, some fentanyl dealers could be charged with murder. Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) said that he spent months crafting the bill, seeking input from both the law enforcement and scientific communities to best address this “horrible, horrible problem that all of us are trying to do our best to deal with.” Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever that’s 100 times stronger than morphine; the bill also adds some substances to the list of prohibited synthetic marijuana substances, in an attempt to keep up with the ever-changing face of this drug.
A Senate panel has already approved a companion bill.
Once upon a time, it was legal to buy, sell, and possess K2, Spice, and “bath salts,” but these substances are now all banned under Section 893.03 of the Florida Statutes. However, there are other kinds of synthetic cannabinoids that are not on the prohibited list.
Florida drug law is very straightforward, and a substance is either on the naughty list or it is not. For an individual to be convicted, the state must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, the defendant possessed an illegal substance. If that particular form of synthetic marijuana was not illegal at the time the offense was allegedly committed, the defendant is not guilty as a matter of law.
This analysis leads to a similar defense, because “possession” has a specific meaning in this context. To establish possession, prosecutors must prove both of the following elements:
- Knowledge: This issue often comes up in mass possession cases, g., the police find drugs in a car and arrest all its occupants. But physical proximity is not enough, because the prosecutor must prove that the defendant knew there were drugs in the area.
- Control: In addition to knowing about the drugs, the defendant must also be able to get to the drugs, g. the drugs cannot be in a locked glovebox.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse in these cases, but a reasonable mistake of fact (“I didn’t know those cigarettes had been spiked with synthetic marijuana”) is usually a defense.
These cases often involve search warrants, and there are some very strict procedural requirements.
The warrant must specify the exact nature of the illegal conduct that is allegedly going on at that particular location, and the search warrant is valid only for that limited purpose. For example, if the warrant gives officers permission to search for marijuana, they cannot seize any illegal prescription drugs they happen to find, unless plain view or another exception applies.
Incidentally, pills in a medicine cabinet are usually not in plain view, even if the cabinet was unlocked and even if the cabinet was partially open.
Rely On Experienced Attorneys
Drug crimes cases involve unique substantive and procedural rules. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Home and jail visits are available.