What is considered possession of a controlled substance in Florida?
Under Florida law, there are hundreds of controlled substances — some that most people are familiar with (e.g., cocaine, heroin, marijuana) but others that rarely make the news headlines.
It is unlawful for an individual to be in actual or constructive possession of any of these controlled substances unless a prescription from a doctor has been obtained for it.
As you can see, in the eyes of the law, possession is not as simple as it first sounds. The prosecution must prove possession beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction but, depending on circumstances, this might be actual or constructive possession.
Actual possession means that the individual had physical possession of the drug. It could be on the body, in clothing, within reach or in the hands.
Constructive possession is generally harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution must prove that the individual was aware that the drug was in their presence along with the intent to possess and the ability to take control of the drug.
Chapter 893 Florida’s Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act
Chapter 893 of the Florida Statutes is known as the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It is the main piece of legislation regulating controlled substances at the state level.
The Act classifies a vast array of substances in five “schedules”, including narcotics, illegal drugs stimulants, prescription medications, and chemicals of varying medical use and addictiveness.
Possession of substances that are the most addictive with no known medical use (Schedule 1) is considered the most serious drug possession crime as these substances have the highest potential for abuse. Examples include methamphetamines, heroin, opium, and ecstasy.
It surprises some people that cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 substance in Florida considering that medical marijuana is legal in Florida and many states have legalized recreational marijuana (though it remains illegal at a federal level).
Many common prescription medications, such as Valium, Xanax, OxyContin, and Vicodin are also considered highly dangerous and open to abuse in Florida. Users must have a doctor’s prescription or they can find themselves saddled with a drug possession charge.
Also, bear in mind that even with a valid prescription for a controlled substance, driving while under the influence is illegal.
In cases of possession of a controlled substance, the amount of the drug will play a significant role in determining the overall penalties for convictions — but the type of drug according to the drug schedule is also important.
Search and seizure during drug possession cases in Florida
Law enforcement must abide by strictly applied constitutional rules when gathering evidence in drug possession cases.
One of the first considerations for a criminal defense lawyer will be how the controlled substance was discovered. Your lawyer will carefully analyze the evidence surrounding the arrest, search, discovery, and testing of the substance.
Unless the police followed the search and seizure rules to the letter, a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights may have been breached and, in that case, the evidence is likely to be inadmissible. This often results in a reduction or dismissal of charges.
Penalties for possession of a controlled substance in Florida
Florida takes all drug crimes very seriously — and possession is no exception. Possession of a controlled substance is generally considered a third-degree felony in Florida unless a doctor has prescribed the substance to the defendant.
This is punishable by a sentence of up to five years in a Florida state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
One of the exceptions is marijuana, depending on the quantity discovered. The possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine. Possession of 20 grams or more of cannabis is considered a third-degree felony like other controlled substances.
In some cases, a possession offense can be considered a higher-degree felony. A second-degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 while a first-degree felony can lead to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The penalties for convictions depend greatly on the circumstances and the skills and persuasive powers of your criminal defense lawyer. Sometimes, jail sentences can be avoided by pursuing other options, such as probation, community service, drug counseling and/or treatment, and agreeing to random evaluation/drug testing.
Long term, the lifelong criminal record that accompanies a drug possession conviction may be unavoidable. This can severely impact employment, education, immigration status, driving privileges (see below), and more.
State vs federal possession of a controlled substance charges
Controlled substances are regulated by both the federal and state governments in the U.S. Most low-level drug crimes are tried at the state level but federal agencies can be involved in certain cases.
The Miami-Dade County Drug Court hears many cases. This is a diversionary program intended to provide treatment for drug abuse.
How can a drug possession conviction affect your driving privileges in Florida?
It surprises many that a Florida drug possession conviction will result in a mandatory one-year suspension of the driver’s license regardless of whether it was connected to a DUI charge.
Even if you left your car at home and were caught with a controlled substance and subsequently convicted of drug possession, the one-year license suspension applies. It will also likely still apply even if you enter into a plea agreement that still results in a criminal conviction.
It may be possible to obtain a restricted license for business or employment purposes but this is by no means guaranteed.
A conviction is much harder for the prosecution to achieve when the defendant is represented by a skilled criminal defense lawyer who is well accustomed to the local court system. Numerous valid defenses can shield defendants from the harsh penalties outlined.
If you’re in the Miami Lakes area, contact us online or by phone at (305) 403-7323 for a free initial consultation with a skilled criminal defense lawyer.