The term "Drug Trafficking" can conjure up thoughts of drug cartels and drug king pins. It can invoke images of contraband being smuggled across international borders. It is also fair to say that most people equate drug trafficking with the use of guns and large quantities of illicit drugs being exchanged for cash. Hollywood has no doubt capitalized on this imagery through such major motion pictures as "The French Connection," Scarface," "Blow," and "Miami Vice."
Florida Has a Broad Interpretation
The truth of the matter is that the Florida Legislature had a completely different idea when they passed the drug trafficking statute in Florida. In fact, Florida Statute Section 893.135 (Drug Trafficking) is not limited to targeting top level drug dealers or those commonly understood to be "traffickers." Instead, the trafficking law casts a much broader net. It simply looks at the weight of the drug that the individual is found to be in possession of. If that weight meets a certain threshold, the individual is immediately classified a "drug trafficker" under Florida law, despite the absence of any evidence to suggest that he was involved in the sale or delivery of the drug. In other words, mere possession of a given weight of a drug can subject you to arrest and conviction as a drug trafficker.
Take Note How "Simple Possession" Can Become Trafficking
A large number of people facing drug trafficking charges got there through addiction and not through a desire to make a profit. Their threshold quantities were often reached through doctor shopping or obtaining their controlled substances through fraud. Given their addiction needs, many of our clients had little desire to part with their medication. Yet, a plain reading of Florida law shows that the legislature failed to consider this important distinction.
Law Enforcement's Motivation for Enforcing the Drug Trafficking Laws
Since 2006, prescription overdose deaths in Tampa bay have doubled. Oxycodone has been the leading cause of death over every other drug, followed by alprazolam. Last year alone, nearly 700 people died in the Tampa Bay area of a prescription drug overdose.
Our office has previously written about Pinellas County's efforts to stop new pain clinics, as well as record Pinellas County Oxycodone prosecutions. We have also made our clients aware of the new "Prescription Drug Database" set to go live on January 1st, 2011. This electronic watch dog is anticipated to snare an untold number of people who have been securing prescriptions from multiple doctors. (See also our 7/2/10 blog: "Pinellas Law Enforcement Likely to Step Up Oxycodone & Doctor Shopping Arrests")
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Department continues to focus its attention on prescription drug and trafficking offenses while Tallahassee politicians author supporting legislation that aids in the further detection of offenders. Although the media applauds these efforts, we seldom hear about the overwhelming number of addicted people being booked into the Pinellas County Jail as "Drug Traffickers" despite the total lack of any effort on their part to engage in the business of "selling" drugs for pecuniary gain. It is often not until they are booked into the Pinellas County Jail that our clients learn that their mere possession of a certain threshold weight of their drug of choice bumped them over into the harsh minimum mandatory penalty realm of "trafficking in drugs."
Minimum Mandatory Penalties...Great Cause for Concern
The difference between mere possession and trafficking is often the difference between exposure to a probationary sentence versus a mandatory minimum prison term. That's because, under Florida law, anyone convicted of a drug trafficking charge must serve a minimum of at least three years in state prison. (The minimum sentence increases depending on the type and weight of the drug.) See Examples Below:
Trafficking in Oxycodone:
Mandatory Minimum Sentence
4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams
Minimum Mandatory Sentence: 3 years + $50,000 fine
14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams
Minimum Mandatory Sentence: 15 years + $100,000 fine
28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms
Minimum Mandatory Sentence: 25 years + $500,000 fine
Avoiding Prison - Planning Your Strategy With a Lawyer
We are former state prosecutors and highly experienced Pinellas County drug trafficking lawyers who can help.
Call us to discuss these possible options:
- Challenging the admissibility of the State's Evidence;
- The possibility of having your charge amended to a lesser offense that doesn't carry a minimum mandatory prison sentence;
- How entry into a residential drug treatment program might help your case;
- Whether an entrapment defense is viable by arguing that a confidential informant or undercover officer persuaded you to commit a crime in which you otherwise would not have been involved;
- Whether you would be a good candidate to perform "Substantial Assistance" under Florida Statute Section 893.135(4). (If your lawyer is successful in negotiating your participation/cooperation with law enforcement through "substantial assistance," the court has the authority to waive the minimum mandatory prison term.)
Pinellas lawyers Frank Russo & Marc Pelletier are former State prosecutors. They limit their practice to criminal charges arising only out of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other areas of Pinellas county, Florida.
Call For a Free Consultation: (727) 578-0303
U.S. D.E.A. Website Dedicated to Oxycontin
Operation PAR Residential Drug Treatment Program
Felony Drug Possession in Florida
Treatment Centers Feel Depth of Pain Pill Crisis
What to do if You are a First Time Offender in Pinellas County