Criminal Defense Attorney for Drug Arrests in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, & Greater Tampa Bay
Drug charges affect a number of individuals,as well as their friends and families. Drug charges in Florida can include the illegal possession of contraband (e.g. Marijuana,
Cocaine) or the illegal possession of prescription drugs (e.g. Oxycodone, Xanax). In addition to the charge of possession, a defendant can be charged with delivery, sale, or trafficking a number of various drugs. Other examples of criminal charges include doctor shopping or prescription fraud.
Defending a drug charge is not impossible, but it does require knowledge of many laws, sometimes in different jurisdictions. For example, a drug arrest in Clearwater by the Pinellas County Sherriff’s office could also involve state and federal authorities. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain these possibilities to you and defend your rights during the process.
The defense of drug charges often includes an analysis of the manner in which evidence of drugs was obtained by law enforcement. Drug evidence is obtained either as a result of a search warrant, a probable cause arrest, a “controlled buy,” a “plain view” observation, or a consensual search.
If drugs are found as a result of a search warrant, then legal analysis will focus on the conditions under which the warrant was obtained, the terms stated in the warrant, and how the warrant and search were carried out. If drugs are found as the result of an arrest, then analysis will focus on the circumstances surrounding the detention and arrest. If drugs are taken as a result of a purchase made by a confidential informant (“controlled buy”) or an undercover officer, then the focus will turn to the character and history of the informant and whether the state’s witnesses can identify the defendant. The direct observation of drugs by law enforcement (“plain view”) will require consideration of whether officers had a legal right to be in a particular location at the time and whether the drugs were in fact, in plain view. Drugs obtained as a result of “consent” to search will require an analysis of whether such consent was truly voluntary.
Conviction for drug offenses can result in a sentence which includes: probation, drug counseling, in-patient treatment, suspension of the Florida driver’s license, community
service, fines and court costs, and incarceration. Serious offenses such as trafficking can involve minimum mandatory sentences which include large fines and prison. Alternative
options available to a defendant may include a hearing to suppress evidence, transfer to Drug Court and Pretrial Diversion (PTI), substantial assistance, downward departure sentencing, drug-offender probation, or trial.
A motion and hearing to suppress evidence is pursued where the conditions under which the drug/evidence was obtained were in violation of statutory and/or constitutional law governing the search and seizure of persons and property. If granted, the court will “suppress,” (i.e. throw out), the drug evidence, leaving the State without sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and resulting in a dismissal of the charges.
Transfer to Drug Court and acceptance into the Pretrial Diversion Program will require submission to approximately 18 months of probation, community service work, and completion of the level of drug counseling recommended by Operation PAR. Upon completion of the program, the court will dismiss the charges. Access to the PTI Program is controlled by the State Attorney, and application must be made through, and approved by, this office.
Substantial Assistance refers to the confidential program of cooperation with law enforcement, resulting in the identification and arrest of other individuals involved in the possession or sale of illegal drugs. This program is also controlled by the State Attorney and is usually reserved for those cases where the defendant is charged with trafficking in drugs and is facing a substantial amount of incarceration if convicted. Successful assistance can result in a significant reduction in sentence.
A defendant may be eligible for a reduction in a prison term if they qualify for a “departure sentence.” Whether to depart from the sentence recommended by the Felony Sentencing Guidelines is left to the discretion of the judge. A downward departure from the Guidelines is prohibited unless circumstances or factors reasonably justify such action. Mitigating
circumstances which might reasonably justify departure in a drug case may exist where: (1) the defendant requires specialized treatment for a mental disorder that is unrelated to substance abuse, addiction, or physical disability, and the defendant is amenable to treatment, or (2) the defendant qualifies to be sentenced as a “youthful offender.”
In summary, the defense of drug charges requires knowledge of the law and procedure regarding search and seizure as well as an understanding of the various alternatives which
might be available to a given defendant. The successful resolution of a drug case involves an appreciation of treatment options as well as an ability to effectively negotiate an acceptable settlement with the State, if possible. When the alternatives of suppression, diversion, substantial assistance, departure, or plea bargain are unavailable or unacceptable, the defendant can exercise their final option: that of jury trial.
From drug rehab to a jury trial, defendants in a Tampa Bay area drug case have a lot of options available to them, but they should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before making any legal decisions. Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney Charles Holloway, P.A., is available for a free initial consultation by calling (727) 446-8303. Attorney Holloway’s office is located in Clearwater for your convenience.