- I Was Caught with 25 Grams of Hydrocodone—Can I Be Charged with Trafficking?
- Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentencing for a Hydrocodone Trafficking Conviction
- Point System from the Florida Department of Corrections Scoresheet Manual
- Defending Against Charges of Hydrocodone Trafficking
- How an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Can Change Your Outcome
- Sample Florida Sentencing Guideline
I Was Caught with 25 Grams of Hydrocodone—Can I Be Charged with Trafficking?
When most people hear the word “drug trafficking,” they think of armed drug dealers selling vast quantities of illegal drugs. In fact, it is not even necessary to actually sell a drug to be charged under Florida’s drug trafficking laws. Florida drug trafficking laws kick in when the weight of the illegal substance exceeds statutory limits for that particular substance.
While there are differing penalties, according to the weight of different drugs, all trafficking charges in Florida result in a mandatory prison sentence. In addition to a mandatory prison term and a huge fine, those convicted of trafficking could face governmental seizure of their home, vehicle or cash—anything police believe might have a connection to the crime of trafficking.
Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentencing for a Hydrocodone Trafficking Conviction
Despite the fact that many feel Florida’s mandatory minimum sentences associated with drug crimes are overly-harsh, the ones associated with trafficking remain in effect. Under Florida statute 893.135(1)(c)2.a., possessing 14 grams of hydrocodone and less than 28 grams will be considered trafficking, or under 893.135(1)(c)2.b., between 28 grams and 50 grams. Fourteen grams of hydrocodone is approximately 22 10 mg. pills. Interestingly, 14 grams of oxycodone is about 108 pills, due to the fact that hydrocodone contains acetaminophen which makes the pills heavier. It also means you need far fewer hydrocodone pills to trigger trafficking charges.
About 50 percent of those charged with hydrocodone trafficking actually possessed or were selling fewer than 30 pills. Further about 84 percent of those offenders had never been convicted of a violent crime, and about 81 percent had no prior dealing or trafficking convictions. What this means is the average prescription pill “trafficker” could be serving a mandatory minimum sentence for possessing or selling something akin to a handful of pills.
Hydrocodone is the generic name for Vicodin, Lortab and Norco, and is listed as a Schedule II drug in the state of Florida. As a Schedule II drug, trafficking in hydrocodone from 14-28 grams brings a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 3 years and a $50,000 fine. More than 28 grams of the drug, but less than fifty grams, results in a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and a fine of $100,000. Trafficking hydrocodone with possession of 50 grams to 200 grams carries a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and a $500,000 fine. Finally, trafficking hydrocodone with possession of 200 grams to 30 kilograms results in a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and a $750,000 fine.
How is Trafficking Proven in the State of Florida?
Hydrocodone is a controlled substance in the state of Florida. To definitively prove the crime of trafficking in hydrocodone, the state must be able to prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt. These four elements include:
- The accused knowingly possessed, purchased, sold, delivered, brought into the state of Florida a specific substance;
- That substance was hydrocodone;
- The quantity of the hydrocodone was fourteen grams or more, and
- The accused was aware the substance in question was hydrocodone.
Point System from the Florida Department of Corrections Scoresheet Manual
Because all drug trafficking charges in the state of Florida carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence, the scoresheet preparation manual released by the Florida Department of Corrections is not as applicable as it might be for other crimes. If, however, there are additional issues associated with the defendant’s charges, then the scoresheet can give an idea of how many months over the mandatory sentence they might be looking at.
When a person is arrested for a felony crime, that crime is assigned a certain level as a primary offense. The level is then assigned a specific number of points. Should the defendant score above 44 points, they will be sentenced to time in a Florida state prison for a certain number of months. In the case of a drug trafficking conviction, the Judge may not adjust the prison sentence downward, as the mandatory minimum applies.
Trafficking in hydrocodone in the state of Florida is a level seven offense (with level 10 being the most serious crimes). A level 7 offense = 56 points. A prior criminal record can add additional points to that total. A legal status violation will add an additional four points (escape, fleeing, failure to appear, incarceration, pretrial intervention or diversion program, etc.). Drug trafficking means the total points will be multiplied by 1.5.
The computation for prison sentence takes any amount of points over 44, subtracts 28, then multiplies the result by .75 to arrive at the prison sentence in months. As an example, trafficking in hydrocodone of more than 14 grams, but less than 28 grams is 56 points, therefore the scoring is as follows: 56 – 28 = 28 x .75 = 21 months x 1.5 = 31.5 months, (however the mandatory minimum sentence is three years).
Under Florida statute 893.135(1)(a), the crime of trafficking in hydrocodone is a first-degree felony. If, however, the defendant had a prior serious felony (30 points) and fled when the police attempted an arrest (4 points) the score would look more like this:
56 – 28 = 28 + 30 + 4 = 62 x .75 = 46.5 x 1.5 (trafficker) = 69.75 months (5 years and ten months)
Defending Against Charges of Hydrocodone Trafficking
The defense your attorney will use to fight your charges of hydrocodone trafficking will depend on the circumstances and facts surrounding your arrest. There are, however a number of defenses which could be applicable in your situation. As a citizen of the United States, you have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, so if the police exceeded their constitutional authority when obtaining evidence against you, your attorney may be able to file a motion to suppress the illegally obtained evidence. Other potential defenses include:
- In certain cases, when using confidential informants or conducting sting operations, the police exceed their legal boundaries, and end up coercing a person to commit a crime that person would not otherwise have committed. In such a case, the attorney may be able to argue the defendant was set up. When using the entrapment defense, the burden of proof lies on the defendant, however if it can be proven, the charges would likely be dropped.
- While not technically a defense, substantial assistance may allow a judge to sentence the defendant without imposing the minimum mandatory prison term if the defendant works as an informant to help the police arrest others who might be dealing or trafficking drugs. The defendant must plead guilty to the crime and must sign an agreement, which promises to deliver a specific number of others committing drug crimes within a specified length of time. A defendant who agrees to substantial assistance but fails to provide the assistance promised could be subject to the mandatory prison time—and he or she will be unable to withdraw their original guilty plea.
- The constructive possession defense may be used if more than one person had access to the hydrocodone. If this is the case, then the prosecutor might have difficulty proving the defendant had knowledge of the presence of the hydrocodone and had dominion and control over the drug.
- An affirmative defense to the crime of trafficking in hydrocodone could lie in true lack of knowledge. If the attorney can definitively show the defendant had no knowledge of the illegal nature of the hydrocodone possessed, then this defense could raise reasonable double.
- If the defendant was arrested with more than 14 grams of hydrocodone, but later produced a valid prescription for the drug, then no crime has been committed.
How an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Can Change Your Outcome
Due to the mandatory minimum sentencing associated with drug trafficking cases, it is crucial you have a knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney in your corner. Trafficking offenses are not resolved through deal negotiation, therefore having an attorney from The Law Place on your side to thoroughly examine every aspect of your case is crucial. Our attorneys are committed to ensuring the best possible outcome to your charges of hydrocodone trafficking.
Sample Florida Sentencing Guideline
The Law Place has created an interactive sentencing guideline to assist individuals with their possible sentence. You can see that guideline HERE.