In Florida, possession of a controlled substance (i.e., “illegal drugs”) could subject you to significant criminal penalties, even if you have only a minimal amount of the drugs at-issue in your direct possession. Florida has extremely strict drug possession laws, even when compared to other states — though you may have no demonstrated intent to distribute the drugs, simple possession could still expose you to penalties of up to five years imprisonment (as well as fines and other restrictions).
If you’ve been charged with drug possession, you are not without options. Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, there may be legitimate defenses at play that could circumvent or otherwise minimize your criminal liability. Given the seriousness of the penalties associated with drug possession, however, it’s critical that you get in touch with an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney who understands how to effectively fight drug possession charges and avoid liability.
What defenses might be used to help challenge the drug possession charges that have been brought against you? Consider the following.
Drug Was Not a Controlled Substance
In order for the court to find you guilty for the crime of drug possession, the prosecution must show that the drug itself was a controlled substance, falling under one of the several classes of illegal drugs in the state of Florida. This will be established in a lab, after testing the drug for its chemical composition. In some cases, officers find substances that do not actually qualify as controlled substances under Florida law, and the drug possession charge will not stick.
Possession of a controlled substance is not always indicative of criminal liability, however. If you have a valid medical prescription (such as a medical marijuana prescription from a qualified physician), then criminal liability will not attach, even if you are in possession of a controlled substance.
You Did Not Know That the Substance Was Illegal
Florida law requires that the prosecution show that you knew (or reasonably should have known) about the drug and its illegality. For example, you might be in possession of a controlled substance — say, cocaine — but if you were told that it was baking soda, and the evidence points to the fact that you truly did not realize that the substance was cocaine, then you can avoid a conviction. Genuine “ignorance” of the substance is a complete defense.
You Did Not Exercise Control
You cannot be held liable for drug possession unless the prosecution can show that you exercised control or dominion over the substance at-issue. If law enforcement officers find drugs on your person (i.e., in your pockets), then there is no defense, unless the evidence shows that you were entirely unaware of its presence. If law enforcement officers find drugs in your general vicinity, on the other hand, then they must prove that you exercised adequate control over the drugs such that it could be reasonably said to be in your possession. For example, if you are with friends at a rented vacation home, and law enforcement officers find drugs in one of your friend’s rooms, it cannot be reasonably inferred that you exercised control over the drugs.
Officers Did Not Have Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause
Florida law gives officers the right to stop you only if they have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed (or will commit) a crime. Reasonable suspicion requires that the officer have more than just a “hunch” of such activity. After the officer has established reasonable suspicion, they must have probable cause of criminal activity in order to conduct a more thorough search of your person. Probable cause is an even stricter, more demanding standard than that of reasonable suspicion.
If an officer obtains evidence of drug possession after failing to establish reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause, then that evidence will not be introduced into the case — if you can prevent such evidence from being introduced, then in all likelihood, you will be able to avoid criminal liability. Contact a Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.