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Florida drug possession laws – the basics

Like most states, Florida has fairly strict laws when it comes to drug possession. In general, possession occurs when a person holds a controlled substance for personal use. In other words, the individual was not engaging in activities such as manufacturing, distributing or selling the controlled substance. For example, if a police officer in Fort Lauderdale finds that you have a small amount of marijuana on your person and you do not have a prescription for medical use, then you could face a drug possession charge.

However, if you also possess items that indicate you intended to sell the drugs, then the court might elevate the charges to possession with the intent to sell. As with many other criminal law matters, the level of offense will depend on specific circumstances such as the type of drugs the police discovered. Here is a brief overview of Florida's drug possession laws.

Required elements

For the prosecution to pursue a drug possession charge, three specific circumstances must exist. First, the controlled substance must, in fact, be illegal according to Florida law. This might require testing in a crime lab to prove the substance is of a controlled and illegal nature.

Next, the defendant must know that the substance was illegal and that he or she was in possession of it. Third, the defendant had to have control of both the location and presence of the drugs. For instance, if the police officer finds a joint in your pocket, the court will probably consider all three criteria met. On the other hand, if you are riding in someone else's car and police officers find drugs in the trunk, you might be able to prove that there is reasonable doubt that all three requirements existed.

Types of charges

The drug possession charge a defendant faces will depend on the type and amount of drugs that the police found. The state can charge a person with first-degree misdemeanor possession for illegally possessing up to 20 grams of marijuana. A third-degree felony possession charge could occur if law enforcement find more than 20 grams of marijuana, cocaine up to 28 grams, and up to 4 grams of heroin or other opiates.

In cases where the accused possessed more than 24 pounds of marijuana, more than 28 grams of cocaine or 4 grams of heroin, he or she might be facing a first-degree felony possession charge.

Penalties

Like the charges, the penalties will also depend on the amount and type of drugs involved as well as the existence of previous charges. For instance, a first-degree misdemeanor possession charge could carry with it up to one year in jail, in addition to court fees. In situations where there are at least four previous convictions, the defendant might have to also complete mandatory treatment and one year of house arrest in addition to the jail time and court fees.

A third-degree felony usually carries up to five years in prison and a first-degree felony could cost a defendant up to 30 years in prison and $250,000 in court fees and fines.

If you are facing a drug possession charge in Florida, it is important to remember that you still have rights. With a strong defense, you might be able to successfully fight back against the charges and avoid a black mark on your criminal record.

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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