Drug Crimes

Understanding Drug Crimes, Charges and Penalties in Florida

By
Gregory Salnick
on
March 10, 2019

The State of Florida aggressively prosecutes individuals charged with drug crimes. As such, it is important to understand how the state schedules, charges and punishes drug-related crimes.

The State of Florida aggressively prosecutes individuals charged with drug crimes. Mandatory minimum prison sentences apply for even minor offenses. In addition to fines, prison sentences, and probation, those involved in drug transactions may also face harsh penalties of forfeiture of their home, vehicle, or cash that may be linked to the illegal transaction. As such, it is important to understand how the state schedules, charges and punishes drug-related crimes.

The Schedules

The State of Florida divides drugs into five “schedules” based on their abuse potential.

Schedule One:

  • High abuse potential and not accepted for medical use and treatment
  • Example: Heroin

Schedule Two:

  • High abuse potential but accepted for limited medical use
  • Examples: Morphine and opium

Schedule Three:

  • Some abuse potential and many accepted medical uses
  • Example: Anabolic steroids.

Schedule Four:

  • Low abuse potential and broad medical use
  • Example: Diazepam

Schedule Five:

  • Limited risk of physical or psychological dependence and widespread medical use
  • Examples: Marijuana and Tylenol 4

The schedule of a particular drug will largely dictate your charge and your mandatory minimum sentence.

Drug Possession in Florida

Simple possession is an offense by someone who did not manufacture, distribute, sell, or deal a controlled substance, but simply kept it for personal or recreational use. Nonetheless, possession is still a serious offense that can carry heavy penalties.

Drug Possession Penalties

Possession may be charged as a first, second, or third-degree felony or misdemeanor. Penalties vary based on the schedule and amount of the substance possessed. For instance, if you have multiple prior convictions, your penalty will likely be higher.

First-degree felonies yield the harshest punishments. Possession of any Schedule One drug in excess of ten grams can result in up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Possessing chemicals used to make meth of ecstasy can result in up to fifteen years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Possession of cocaine, heroin, or meth is a third-degree felony, resulting in five years and up to $5,000 in fines.

Convictions for possession may also result in probation, suspension of your drivers’ license, ineligibility for some types of employment, and more. Be sure to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about the possible repercussions of your drug possession charge.

Defenses to Drug Possession

Your attorney can raise a number of defenses to a possession charge. One of the most common defenses raised at the outset of a case is the illegal search or seize defense. This means that the law enforcement officers who searched your person, home, or vehicle and seized the drugs did so against your Fourth Amendment rights. This may mean that they searched without a warrant or that they used unreasonable force in doing so. Your attorney may also argue that the drugs belonged to someone else, or that they were seized pursuant to an invalid warrant.

Drug Manufacturing in Florida

Those charged with manufacturing drugs in Florida will likely face felony charges with much higher penalties. Typically, you will also be charged with possession and as such, you may accrue two or more separate felony charges with stacked penalties.

Drug Manufacturing Penalties

Penalties for drug manufacturing depend largely on the classification of the substance, the amount, and where the manufacturing occurred: If it was within 1,000 feet of a school or a church, you will face enhanced penalties.

Cultivating marijuana carries the least severe penalty. It is usually charged as a third-degree felony with up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. For other substances, you will generally face a second-degree felony charge with up to fifteen years and a $10,000 fine.

The State can enhance penalties in certain situations, for instance, if someone rents a building, room, or structure to manufacture controlled substances. Possession of listed chemicals often used in manufacturing may also lead to an elevated charge and penalty.

Defenses to Drug Manufacturing

As with possession, your attorney may raise several defenses to a manufacturing charge. In many cases, the defenses will reduce your penalty. For instance, your lawyer may argue to reduce the charge to simple possession, may cite a medical necessity for manufacturing the drugs, or once again, claim a Fourth Amendment violation in the seizure of the substances.

Drug Trafficking in Florida  

Drug trafficking is defined as the intentional sale, purchase, manufacture, delivery, possession, or transportation into the State of Florida of a “trafficking amount” of drugs.

Florida law imposes a minimum threshold amount needed to support a trafficking charge. This differs for different substances. The statutory amounts represent the minimum amounts needed to charge: As the amount increases, so does the mandatory minimum sentence that will apply.  

Examples of the quantities and types of drugs that trigger the statutory mandatory minimum penalties are as follows:

  • Marijuana: 25 pounds or 300 plants
  • Cocaine: 28 grams
  • Fentanyl: 4 grams
  • GHB: 1 kilogram
  • Hydrocodone: 14 grams
  • Heroine: 4 grams
  • LSD: 4 grams
  • Ecstasy: 10 grams
  • Oxycodone: 7 grams

Drug Trafficking Penalties

The penalties applied will differ based on the substance and the quantity. For instance, for marijuana trafficking, the penalty is a mandatory three years in prison and $25,000 fine for 25 - 2000 pounds or 300 - 2,000 plants. For 2000-10000 pounds and 2,000 – 10,000 plants, the penalty goes up to 7 years and a $50,000 fine.

For other substances, though, the penalties are much steeper. For instance, with fentanyl, trafficking 4 - 14 grams can trigger a penalty of three years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine, and 28 grams or more can result in 25 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

Defenses to Drug Trafficking

As with possession and manufacturing, trafficking defenses can be raised at trial or pretrial. Some of the most common defenses are as follows:

  • Entrapment – This is when an undercover law enforcement officer or confidential informant induces you to commit a crime.
  • Illegal search/seizure – As with possession and manufacturing, if a law enforcement officer violates your Fourth Amendment rights by exceeding the scope of his authority or if he uses unreasonable force in conducting a search of your person, vehicle, or home, your attorney can argue to dismiss the case.
  • “Substantial assistance” – This is not technically a defense but allows for a reduction in the mandatory minimum sentence. Your attorney may ask the court to reduce or suspend your sentence if you provided “substantial assistance” in identifying, arresting, or convicting another person engaged in trafficking.

Hiring A Florida Drug Crime Lawyer

Because drug charges and penalties vary based on the specific facts, you should not attempt to navigate your case without the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can craft a defense on your behalf and potentially reduce your penalty.

At Salnick & Fuchs, we are equipped to present a strong legal case on your behalf. Please contact us if you have any questions about the law or if you’ve been charged with a drug offense.