Fighting a Florida Drug Possession Charge
Florida’s drug laws are among the strictest in the nation. Mere possession of a controlled substance such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine is a third degree felony, which can carry penalties including fines and up to five years in prison. If you are currently facing possession charges, however, you are not without legal defenses.
Florida law recognizes two types of drug possession – actual and constructive. Actual possession is when police find a drug actually on your person, for example, in a jacket pocket. Whether you technically own the drug is legally irrelevant. For instance, if you borrowed a friend’s jacket that had cocaine in the pocket, the fact that it was not your cocaine is not a defense to possession charges.
The best way to challenge an actual possession charge is to call into question the stop and search that resulted in the police finding the drugs. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed, or are about to commit, a crime in order to legally stop you. (See Fl. Stat. §901.151.) A reasonable suspicion requires a basis in fact considering all the circumstances of a stop; the officer may not rely simply on a hunch. Thereafter, an officer must have probable cause to support a search. Probable cause is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion. If the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop you or probable cause to conduct a search, then the charges against you must be dismissed.
If you are charged with possession of drugs not on your person, but found in another location or a common area, the prosecution must prove constructive possession, meaning that you knew the drugs were there and you had the ability to access or control them. You might be charged with constructive possession if you were a passenger in a car when police found drugs in the glove compartment. The prosecution must establish that:
- You had dominion and control over the drugs;
- You knew that the drugs were there; and
- You knew that the drugs were illegal. (See Williams v. State, 573 So. 2d 124 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1991.)
The fact that the drugs were found near you is not enough to demonstrate constructive possession, even if they were in plain view. For example, in Williams v. State, referenced above, the defendant Williams was arrested after a search of the chair he was sitting in outside a pool hall turned up three cocaine rocks under the cushion and on the ground beneath it. Williams was surrounded by a group of six to ten other men at the same time. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Williams knew the cocaine was there or had control over it.
A constructive possession charge can be challenged by questioning the stop and search, as with an actual possession charge. It can also be challenged on the grounds that the evidence is insufficient to establish all the elements of constructive possession beyond a reasonable doubt.
Consult an Orlando Drug Crimes Lawyer
Because of the potential seriousness of drug charges and their consequences, if you are facing such charges you should seek help from a skilled Florida drug crimes lawyer. The experienced drug crimes lawyers of The Baez Law Firm go the extra mile for our clients in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and throughout the state. Even if your case seems hopeless, we will review all the facts and circumstances to present a thorough defense. Contact us for a consultation today.