When most people think Drug Trafficking, they think Pablo Escobar or the movie Scarface. They think big organizations moving lots of product, making lots of money. In reality, it’s not that glamorous for most.
Drug Trafficking in Florida
Florida law doesn’t worry whether you’re a drug dealer. It doesn’t care whether this is your first time or tenth. It doesn’t consider the amount of money in a transaction. There’s not even a need for a transaction. Simply put, three factors matter: the drug, the action and the weight.
First, the drug really matters. We’ll get to why in a moment. Although you might think Cocaine, Heroin, Oxycodone or Marijuana, which Florida law refers to as Cannabis, when you think Drug Trafficking, Florida designates hundreds of compounds as Controlled Substances. Yes, Cocaine, Heroin, Oxycodone and Marijuana count as Controlled Substances. But they’re far from the entire list. You can traffic in some of these listed substances.
In Florida, the law penalizes behavior. You can’t Possess, Possess With Intent, Sell, Manufacture or Deliver any Controlled Substance. Possession With Intent considers Intent to Sell, Manufacture or Deliver. For Drug Trafficking offenses, your behavior doesn’t matter as long as its one of the above. They’re all crimes. Looking at another’s drugs isn’t enough.
Here’s why the drug really matters. First, the punishments change per Controlled Substance. For each though, more substance means more prison. But the amounts vary. It takes lots more Cannabis than Cocaine to traffic.
Second, you can’t traffic in every Controlled Substance. Florida punishes 14 substances and their variants this way. If you possess 1 gram of Alprazolam, the active ingredient in Xanax, you face a third degree felony. If you possess 1,000 grams of Alprazolam, you still face a third degree felony. That’s not the case for Oxycodone. You can Traffic in Oxycodone.
Drug Trafficking Sentencing
Presently, almost all Drug Trafficking offenses in Florida are first degree felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison. While the maximum sentences mostly match, the minimums vary depending upon the Controlled Substance. However, they’re all similar in that they punish you more as the amount of the drug increases.
For example, Trafficking in Cocaine includes a 3 year minimum mandatory sentence if you possess 28 grams up to 200 grams. You must serve a minimum mandatory sentence day for day. There’s no credit for gain time. Also, the charge includes a $50,000 fine. To make matters worse, a judge can’t change the sentence or fine. Only the prosecutor can agree to waive them.
Additionally, the punishments increase beyond just 3 years in prison. If you Possess 200 grams up to 400 grams, you face a 7 year minimum mandatory sentence. Also, there’s a $100,000 fine. If you Possess 400 grams up to 150 kilograms, you face a 15 year minimum mandatory sentence. That comes with a $250,000 fine.
Compare these thresholds to the first tier of Trafficking in Cannabis. It takes over 25 pounds but less than 2,000 pounds of Cannabis to receive a 3 year minimum mandatory sentence. That fine costs $25,000, the lowest of all Drug Trafficking fines in Florida. Every other substance starts with a minimum fine of at least $50,000. Some reach $500,000.
Drug Trafficking Law Punishes Users and Lesser Quality Mixtures
You might think to yourself that you have a lot of drugs. But because you don’t intend to sell them, this doesn’t apply to you. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Because it’s hard to determine whether a person is a drug dealer or a drug user, the law eliminates the guesswork. It traps users with the dealers because Drug Trafficking offenses only vary by the type and amount of the drug possessed.
Although you can traffic by selling these substances, you traffic by simply Possessing them too. Percocet pills weigh more than most, and include Oxycodone. If you possess a small number of them for personal use which weigh 7 grams or more, you face a 3 year minimum mandatory sentence. You’re treated as if you planned on selling 10 grams of blues or greens.
Moreover, Florida doesn’t distinguish between the weight of the Controlled Substance and the rest of the filler. For instance, 1 kilogram of 1% Cocaine cut with baking powder gets punished the same as 1 kilogram of 100% pure Cocaine.
Percocet contains Oxycodone and acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Florida treats Percocet possession as if the entire pill weight is Oxycodone. It doesn’t matter that acetaminophen is legal to possess. It doesn’t matter than almost all of the pill contains a legal substance. The mixture’s weight matters, regardless of how little Controlled Substance might exist.
Federal Drug Trafficking
Federal Drug Trafficking laws operate similarly to Florida law as the nature of the punishments vary by the type and amount of the drug. However, the weights don’t correspond to the same sentences. They have their own list of Controlled Substances, which differs from Florida’s list.
Unlike in State Court, Knowingly Possessing 500 Grams or More of Cocaine with the Intent to Distribute it carries a 5 year minimum mandatory sentence up to 40 years in prison. 5 kilograms or more carries a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence up to life in prison. Notice the Intent to Distribute requirement here. But Federal law punishes Crack Cocaine more severely than powder Cocaine as the numbers change to 28 grams and 280 grams respectively to garner the 5 and 10 year minimum mandatory prison sentences.
More often, the federal government prosecutes complex Drug Trafficking Organizations which move Controlled Substances across state and international lines. South Florida sees a lot of go fast boats and submarines moving hundreds or thousands of kilograms of Cocaine to the United States. The government regularly monitors international waters to protect our country from these offenders.
Drug Crimes Within 1000 Feet
Although Drug Trafficking offenses punish by weight, Florida also punishes by proximity to certain locations. These offenses regulate actions other than simple Possession. If you sell a Controlled Substance within 1000 feet of a school between 6 a.m. and midnight, the punishment increases. The law prohibits sales within 1000 feet of Parks, Colleges, Places of Worship, Child Care Facilities, Community Centers, Convenience Store at all hours. Some of these offenses include minimum mandatories too.
Besides Cocaine, Heroin, Oxycodone and Cannabis, Designer Drugs make up a decent number of drug arrests. Manufacturers alter the chemical structure of MDMA, Methamphetamine and other drugs to avoid prosecution. Because there’s no standard MDMA pill, users don’t know what to look for. Also, most people never know the substance inside the pill. If they’re high, they don’t care whether its MDMA or Foxy.
Sometimes police arrest people for possessing pills without a Controlled Substance inside them. Like the user, they don’t know either. Everyone believes the pills contain MDMA, but they contain another substance which isn’t criminal. Foxy used to be one of those substances. Now the State and Federal governments added it to their lists of Controlled Substances. For a while, people abused bath salts like MDPV without consequence until Florida changed the law to add them to its list.
Furthermore, these manufacturers use pill presses to counterfeit prescription drugs. At first, you might think you’re holding a pill made by Purdue Pharma. Often, they lace these fake pills with Fentanyl because of the reduced cost and strong potency. It’s cheaper than real Oxycodone.
Talk to an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney!
Drug Trafficking offenses can be extremely complicated cases. Sometimes they involve sophisticated drug trafficking organizations. Sometimes regular people possess a few too many pills. Because people take steps to hide their crimes, law enforcement uses wire taps, search warrants, hidden cameras and other tools to gather evidence. Check out my blog post on a recent case where a search warrant goes too far. They also use confidential informants, some of whom get paid or work off their own charges, to negotiate drug deals.
Maybe you’ve been entrapped by a confidential informant. Someone else made you pick up that bag. Maybe the government obtained evidence against you unconstitutionally. Do you have a prescription for the pill? These aren’t the type of cases that every lawyer can properly defend. They’re very nuanced and require someone with an expertise in this field. Fortunately, Mr. Brown prosecuted Drug Trafficking offenses in a special unit dedicated to these crimes. He’s also defended people accused of Trafficking in Cocaine, Opiates and more.
The criminal defense firm Brown Legal PLLC operates from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but regularly handles cases throughout South Florida and the rest of the state. Before it’s too late, talk to Mr. Brown and see if he can help you best defend yourself! Reach out over the phone at (954) 524-6700 or through the Contact Page if you have any questions.