Sixty-Plus People Caught In Police Dragnet
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara boldly declared that 63 “hometown terrorists” were in jail because of a large scale, multi-agency, anti-drug operation.
In announcing the results of “Operation Strike Three,” Sheriff Mascara stood in front of a plethora of firearms and empty pill bottles which he claimed were part of a large scale drug operation in Fort Pierce. Peace officers began monitoring a house on 24th Street, which they claimed was simply a small part of a massive drug operation in several parts of the city. In addition to drug sales, which the organization supposedly used as a source of income, the “highly violent” gang perpetrated “burglaries and. . .home invasions,” according to Lieutenant Brian Hester. Eight individuals, whom Sheriff Mascara described as “the worst of the worst,” face federal crimes; the remainder were indicted on state law charges.
Authorities claim that the violent crime rate in the area dropped precipitously following the arrests.
Drug Possession in Florida
Florida law contains some of the stiffest punishments in the nation for drug possession offenses, largely because of mandatory minimums. For example, four grams of bath salts or oxycodone carries a minimum three years in prison and a whopping $50,000 fine;typically, the minimum must be served day-for-day, meaning there may be no hope for early release.
Fortunately, drug possession cases are not just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, prosecutors must prove:
- Knowledge of the Drug’s Presence: This element is difficult to prove in automobile cases and other similar situations. If police find drugs in a car, they typically arrest everyone at the scene. But in court, prosecutors must prove that the defendant knew about the stash of drugs under the seat or in the glovebox. Prosecutors must also prove that the defendant knew the substance was in fact on the prohibited list; “willful blindness,” or “I don’t want to know what’s in the bag,” is normally not a defense.
- Control over the Drug: Sharing space with a baggie of heroin does not constitute possession. Instead, the state must establish that the defendant had a key to the glovebox or was able to reach under the seat.
- Nature of Substance: Officers nearly always conduct field tests, which usually means that the substance looks and smells like something on the prohibited list. Nearly all agencies conduct additional laboratory tests that are more definitive, but many times, there are chain of custody issues with this evidence.
If authorities seized substantial amounts of money, baggies, weapons, or anything else that could conceivably be used in drug trafficking, prosecutors normally upgrade the charges.
Many drug crimes involve serious Fourth Amendment questions regarding evidence and search warrants. Some common issues that come directly from the text include:
- Warrant Specificity: If the warrant authorizes the police to look for a meth lab in the basement, officers usually cannot seize heroin in the bedroom.
- Probable Cause: The Supreme Court has diluted this requirement in recent years, most notably in 2016’s Utah v. Strieff, but officers must still have some hard evidence of illegal activity to obtain a warrant.
The exclusionary rule normally applies in both state and federal court. This doctrine means that evidence seized in violation of these and other requirements is inadmissible in court.
Contact Assertive Attorneys
Because of mandatory minimums, even seemingly minor drug offenses usually mean long prison sentences. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.