Criminal Blog Week Day 5–Drug Possession in Florida

Drug Possession in Florida

Drug possession can be a very serious charge depending on the circumstances.  Prescription drugs such as Xanax have come under close scrutiny by law enforcement, and trafficking amounts of cocaine, meth, and heroin are relatively small.  Since drug interdiction is a top police priority in Florida, it is essential for a criminal defense attorney to have a strong understanding of this area of law.

In our home jurisdiction at the Matthews Law Firm, the police forces of Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office have pooled their resources, training, and interdiction efforts to present a unified front against those accused of possessing drugs.  They commonly push to the very edge of legality to carry out their mission.  It is very important for a person accused of illegally possessing drugs to seek immediate help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.  It can be helpful for the accused to understand the basics in the law of possession, so they can effectively communicate with their attorney.

In Florida, there are at least two ways to “possess” drugs.  To “possess” means to have personal charge of or exercise the right of ownership, management, or control over the thing possessed.

One way is through actual possession.  There are three ways in which a person can actually possess drugs:

  • The drug is in the hand of or on the person, or
  • The drug is in a container in the hand of or on the person, or
  • The drug is so close as to be within ready reach and is under the control of the person.

The second way a person can be in possession of drugs is through constructive possession.  This concept is more complex than actual possession.  Constructive possession means the drug is in a place over which the person has control, or in which the person has concealed it.  In order to prove constructive possession, the government has to prove two things:

  • The person had control over the drug
  • The person knew that the drug was within his presence or control.

Florida law also recognizes joint possession, that is, when two or more persons can possess the same drug.

Let’s look to some hypothetical examples:

Actual Possession

If a driver is stopped for a traffic stop and the officer sees marijuana on the driver’s shirt, he may be charged with Possession of Cannabis.  In this example, the State can easily argue actual possession, since the drugs were ON the driver.

Constructive Possession

If a driver (and the sole occupant of the car) is stopped for a traffic stop and the officer sees marijuana in the back seat, the driver may be charged with Possession of Cannabis.  The State can argue constructive possession.

Joint Possession

If a driver and a front seat passenger are stopped for a traffic stop and the police officer finds marijuana in the center console, BOTH driver and passenger might be arrested for Possession of Cannabis.  Here, the State could argue joint possession; that both occupants possessed the same drugs.

Defending Against State Tactics

When a car is stopped and the police officer suspects drug possession, the officer will likely ask both the driver and passenger about drugs.  He might ask for statements as to who the drugs belonged to and whether or not they knew drugs were in the vehicle.  This is a standard investigation technique.  Keep in mind that when an officer investigates a crime, he is collecting evidence to use against the accused.  Again, quickly obtaining the help of an experienced aggressive criminal defense attorney can be of critical importance.

Florida law on drug possession is just one example of how the law takes a common idea like “possession” and creates a complex legal situation.  The examples used here only illustrate HOW a person can be arrested and charged for Possession.  Whether or not a person is convicted of the charge is a different issue.  In any particular case, there may be legal, factual, or evidentiary defenses that can be effectively prepared by an experienced attorney.

 

 

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