Will I Get Jail Time for Possession of Cocaine in Florida?
If you have been arrested for possession of cocaine in the state of Florida, it is likely you are anxious, stressed and afraid of what the future may hold. Florida’s drug possession laws can be extremely complex, and, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, the available defenses can vary widely. If you are charged with possession of cocaine in the state, it is important to realize that you do have options.
With an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney by your side who has an extensive working knowledge of both federal and state drug possession laws, you stand a much better chance of a positive outcome. In order to prove possession of cocaine at trial, a Florida prosecutor must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following elements in your case:
- You possessed (through actual or constructive possession) a specific substance;
- That substance was cocaine, and
- You had knowledge of the presence of the cocaine.
What is a Controlled Substance?
The Florida legislation created five classifications, or schedules of drugs which requires finding and specifying the potential for abuse of each drug. Florida’s drug schedule closely follows the federal classifications. A Schedule I drug has a high potential for abuse, and no currently accepted medical treatment use. A Schedule II drug has a high potential for abuse, but has some accepted medical uses, although those uses are severely restricted.
A Schedule III drug has the potential for abuse, and has accepted medical uses. Abuse of a Schedule II drug can lead to low or moderate physical dependence and/or high psychological dependence. Schedule IV drugs have accepted medical uses and a relatively low potential for abuse, and Schedule V drugs have accepted medical uses, and very little potential for abuse. Under Florida law, cocaine is considered a Schedule II drug, with a high potential for abuse and few medically accepted uses.
What is “Possession?”
Under Florida drug laws, a person is prohibited from knowingly being in possession—whether actual or constructive—of a specific, prohibited drug such as cocaine. Actual possession of cocaine means a person actually has the drug in his or her hand, or in a container being held in the hand or, the cocaine is close enough to the person to be within reach, therefore within the person’s control. Constructive possession means the cocaine was not found on the person’s body or within his or her immediate reach. In the case of constructive possession, the prosecution must show the accused was aware the cocaine was in his or her general vicinity and that the accused had the ability to maintain control of the cocaine.
In other words, the accused must have had knowledge of the drug’s presence in his or her home or vehicle as well as the ability to maintain control of the drug. “Knowledge” has two components—1) the person was aware the drug was on or around his or her property, however that knowledge can be inferred from incriminating facts or circumstances and 2) the person was aware the drug—cocaine in this instance—was illegal.
What are the General Penalties for Possession of Cocaine?
The penalties for a conviction of possession of cocaine in the state of Florida are very dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of the individual case, however in general, a person who has been found to be in possession—actual or constructive—of cocaine, has committed a third-degree felony. This felony conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison or five years of probation, and as much as $5,000 in fines. A conviction for the possession of cocaine can also result in two years’ revocation of the person’s Florida driver’s license.
Florida Cocaine Statutes
The geographic location of the state of Florida has resulted in it being a popular location for the importation of drugs. In the 1980’s, however, cocaine-related money actually shaped the South Florida region—by some estimates, it helped build more than 2/3rds of the downtown Miami skyline. Because of this, the Sunshine State has made possession of cocaine a serious offense, under Statute 893.13(6)(a). This statute makes it unlawful to possess more than ten grams of a controlled substance such as cocaine.
Points Which Determine Prison Time for a Possession of Cocaine Conviction
The Florida Department of Corrections released Florida sentencing guidelines in the form of a scoresheet preparation manual. 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, he or she will be sentenced to time in a Florida state prison for a certain number of months—unless the Judge makes the decision to adjust the number of months downward, based on mitigating circumstances.
Possession of a Schedule II drug, such as cocaine, is a level 3 offense (with a level 10 offense being the most serious). A level 3 offense, under the scoresheet preparation manual’s sentencing guidelines, is assigned 16 points. A prior criminal record can add additional points to that total, and a legal status violation will add an additional four points (escape, fleeing, failure to appear, incarceration, pretrial intervention or diversion program, etc.).
Thirty points can be added to the total for a prior serious felony conviction. Enhancements can also add additional points—as an example, if the crime is a criminal gang offense, or if the person is a known drug trafficker, the points will be multiplied by 1.5. Therefore, as an example, a conviction for possession of cocaine adds 16 points. If the accused committed a legal status violation such as fleeing during the attempted arrest, 4 more points would be added, and if the person was considered a drug trafficker, then the total points would be multiplied by 1.5.
So, in this example, 16 + 4 = 20 x 1.5 = 30. If the total sentence points are less than or equal to 44, the lowest permissible sentence is any non-state prison sanction. If the total sentence points are greater than 44, the following formula determines the months of prison sentence: Total points minus 28 x .75 = months of prison sentence. The judge is allowed to adjust those months downward, based on mitigating circumstances, which are clearly spelled out in the manual.
Potential Defenses to Possession of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine is generally a highly defendable charge; the defenses available could be legal or factual in nature, such as:
- The evidence in the case was improperly handled;
- There was no valid warrant in place;
- There were Miranda violations by the police;
- There was no third-party consent for the search;
- The search warrant was improperly executed;
- There was an unlawful canine search or the canine was not properly certified, or
- There was no probable cause for a search.
- No proof the defendant was in actual or constructive possession of the cocaine;
- No proof the defendant was aware of the existence of the cocaine or
- No proof the defendant exercised control over the cocaine.
Why You Must Have an Attorney After Being Charged with Possession of Cocaine?
It is never a good idea to attempt to handle Florida possession of cocaine charges on your own. You could end up serving time in prison and paying very high fines, and could also suffer other consequences such as the loss of your driver’s license, the inability to obtain a job, a student loan or a professional license, and the inability to own a firearm. Having a highly experienced criminal defense attorney from The Law Place by your side from start to finish, ensures your rights and your future are properly protected during the entire process.
Florida Interactive Sentencing Guideline
The Law Place has created an interactive sentencing guideline. This program allows users to input their criminal information and receive a sample scoresheet that can be compared to the actual scoresheet they will receive from their lawyer. The guideline can be found HERE.