Articles Posted in Drug Trafficking

People convicted of disbursing drugs often face substantial sentences. While a subsequent intervening change in the law may impact the grounds for imposing a sentence in a drug crime case, it can be difficult to establish that such modifications are grounds for a sentence reduction, as discussed in a recent Florida ruling. If you are accused of distributing narcotics, it is in your best interest to talk to a Tampa drug crime defense attorney about your possible defenses.

Case Setting

Allegedly, in February 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of federal law. He failed to self-surrender after missing his initial sentencing, leading to a sentence of 262 months of incarceration followed by five years of supervised release. The sentence was not based on drug quantity guidelines but on his designation as a career offender due to two prior crimes.

It is reported that the defendant’s incarceration term was later reduced to 192 months for assisting police in a homicide investigation. Having served over ten years of his 192-month sentence, the defendant, aged 38, is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Bastrop, Texas, with a projected release date of May 24, 2026. While in custody, he faced over a dozen disciplinary incidents, including drug or alcohol possession and refusing work, with the most recent incident in April 2023. He then moved for a second sentence reduction. Continue Reading ›

While owning a gun, in and of itself, is not a crime for most people, when a person found guilty of committing a drug offense, has a gun, it can result in increased penalties. In other words, a sentencing court may impose a firearm enhancement in some instances. Recently, a Florida court discussed what the prosecution must prove to justify such an enhancement in a case in which the defendant argued his sentence for drug trafficking was improper. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a capable Tampa criminal defense lawyer about your potential defenses.

The History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was indicted by a grand jury with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. He entered a guilty plea. The Presentencing Investigation Report (PSI) indicated that following the defendant’s arrest for the charged offenses, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent obtained a warrant to search his residence and found a pistol near his bed.

It is reported that the probation office applied an enhancement for the defendant’s possession of a dangerous weapon in determining his offense level and recommended a sentence of 60 to 71 months’ imprisonment. Before sentencing, both the defendant and the prosecution objected to the firearm enhancement. The court overruled the objections and sentenced the defendant to 62 months in prison, after which he appealed. Continue Reading ›

Florida drug crime cases involving a defendant with mental and emotional conditions can raise a number of complicated legal issues. In some cases, a judge will hold a competency hearing to determine whether the person is mentally capable to stand trial. A recent decision out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal offers some insight into when a judge must hold a competency hearing.A defendant was arrested and charged with various crimes related to his alleged involvement in a prescription drug trafficking ring. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to eight criminal offenses. In a hearing, however, he told the judge that he was under the influence of various prescription drugs to treat mental issues after being involved in some sort of accident. He told the judge that he often had trouble concentrating, but he said he was able to understand everything the judge and his lawyer were telling him. The judge eventually sentenced him to 25 years beyond bars.

The defendant’s doctor testified at the sentencing hearing that the defendant suffered from neurological problems that left him “simple” and “confused.” The doctor said he wasn’t capable of operating a multimillion dollar criminal enterprise like the prescription drug ring in which he was accused of being involved. Investigators, however, said the defendant was clear about the facts of the alleged crimes in several hours of police interviews. His ex-wife also said the defendant stopped going to doctor visits and continued to run the criminal operation, including by considering expanding it to Puerto Rico. As a result, the judge denied his request to reduce his sentence.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the judge didn’t err by failing to hold a competency hearing to determine whether the defendant was mentally capable of entering a guilty plea. The court said the judge had no reasonable basis to believe that he wasn’t mentally competent to proceed. Instead, the court said “competent substantial evidence existed that the defendant was competent.”

Drug trafficking cases are treated very seriously in Florida and often come with the possibility of significant prison time and fines. That includes mandatory minimum sentences that force judges to send offenders to prison for a certain amount of time. The punishments in drug cases vary, however, based on the type and quantity of the drug involved.The Florida legislature occasionally updates criminal laws to reflect a better understanding of the dangers posed by different drugs. In 2014, for example, lawmakers updated criminal laws to treat two prescription painkillers – hydrocodone and hydromorphone – differently for drug trafficking purposes. As a recent decision out of the state’s First District Court of Appeals makes clear, those updates don’t apply to someone convicted before the law changed.

A defendant was charged with trafficking in hydrocodone in 2012. The prescription drug is a powerful painkiller that’s addictive and has been the source of a significant number of overdoses. The defendant was allegedly holding between 14 and 28 grams of the drug at the time. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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State and federal criminal laws often overlap and intertwine, particularly when it comes to drugs and guns. Law enforcement of every stripe takes these cases very seriously, but federal laws tend to be significantly harsher. In a recent Central Florida gun crime case, a federal district court upheld the U.S. government’s right under the Constitution to impose those penalties, as long as the feds can prove some very minimal connection to interstate commerce.The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a federal crime. He was eventually sentenced to five years in jail, a sentence that was increased because he had previously been convicted of drug trafficking. He later appealed the sentence, arguing that the feds didn’t have the authority to charge him under the circumstances. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed.

The Court explained that the federal law banning felons from having guns stems from the federal government’s power under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. That clause directly authorizes the feds “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” It has been read broadly to give the government wide enforcement authority over anything that has some connection to commerce between states.

“The statute is constitutional as applied so long as the government proves some minimal nexus to interstate commerce,” the court explained. The government can establish that connection “by demonstrating that the firearm traveled in interstate commerce through testimony that the firearm was manufactured in a different state.”

In what is described as an emerging trend by the Tampa Bay Times, lawmakers are starting to either repeal mandatory minimum sentences or pass “safety valve” laws. The latter provides judges with more discretion in imposing a variety of punishments in minor drug cases, if certain conditions are met. These new laws could change the way that courts deal with Florida drug crimes, or at least change the length of jail time imposed at sentencing.

The proposed law is a Senate bill brought forth by a pair of Florida legislators. SB 694 permits a court to sentence a drug offender to a sentence less than a mandatory minimum sentence if the following conditions are met:  (i) the person did not engage in a criminal enterprise as defined in Florida Statutes Section 893.20(1) (a continuing criminal enterprise); (ii) the person did not use or threaten violence or use a weapon during the commission of the crime; and (iii) the person did not cause a death or serious bodily injury.

The Florida House of Representatives version is very similar to the one proposed in the Senate but with a few key differences. The court is required to at least impose a sentence of imprisonment that is “no less than one-third of the sentence prescribed” by the mandatory minimum sentencing statute. Separately, the drug offender cannot have certain prior convictions, including a crime of violence as defined in Florida Statutes Section 784.046(1)(a).

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The punishments for Florida drug crimes are often harsh. The legislature has not only criminalized the possession of illegal drugs but also has criminalized a plan, or conspiracy, to sell illegal drugs. As shown in a recent Tampa drug crime case, law enforcement attempted to convict a defendant for conspiracy to deliver cannabis, even though there was likely never any intent to actually make a drug sale.Three friends from the Tampa area made arrangements to meet the defendants to acquire cannabis. One of the passengers called the co-defendant multiple times to find out where to meet. When they arrived at the designated meeting spot, there was no one to meet them. After five or six minutes, the passenger called again. The conversation was suspicious, and the passengers continued to wait in the car. The defendants walked up to the vehicle, where one of the passengers held cash out of the door. The defendant approached the vehicle with a square piece of paper to distract one of the passengers. Instantaneously, the co-defendant pulled a gun from his waistband. The driver sped away but only made it a few feet before the co-defendant fired and shot one of the passengers in the face, causing serious permanent injuries. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s aggravated battery conviction but overturned his conspiracy to deliver cannabis conviction.

Although the co-defendant physically committed the battery offense, Florida law criminalizes accomplices to a battery. The State is required to prove that the defendant intended for the battery to occur and did some act or said some words that assisted or furthered the battery.

The court of appeals found the evidence at trial to be sufficient. It was possible that both defendants created the cannabis sale as a ruse to commit another crime. The defendant also acted as a distraction so that the co-defendant had time to retrieve his firearm from his pants and shoot one of the victims. It appeared as though it were a pre-planned, coordinated effort in which the defendant intended to participate.

It’s well-established that the quantity of a controlled substance affects the sentencing of a person accused of a Florida drug crime. For instance, Florida Statute Section 893.135(1)(f) establishes tiers of increasingly severe minimum sentences and fines for meth trafficking, based on the quantity of meth discovered. In a recent Florida court decision, the defendant was convicted under the felony meth trafficking statute; however, on appeal, the court was asked to consider whether a liquid by-product created in the manufacture of meth should be included in the total calculation of the quantity of meth manufactured by the defendant.

Four deputies with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office arrested the defendant after a shootout, which killed one of the deputies. In a search of the residence, the deputies found instruments indicative of a meth lab. The collected items included items with a total weight of approximately one gram of meth at various stages of the production process, in addition to a vase containing 26.2 grams of a liquid by-product left over from the manufacturing process. The liquid by-product was toxic, but it only contained a trace amount of meth (less than 1%). There was testimony at trial that the liquid could be reused to manufacture additional meth. Based on the weight of the meth, plus the liquid by-product, the defendant was convicted under the felony meth trafficking statute, along with other crimes. Specifically, the meth trafficking statute provides that quantities of meth of 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, carry with them a minimum sentence of three years and a fine of $50,000.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the 26.2 grams of liquid by-product should not have been included in the total weight of the meth. The defendant conceded that the mixture contained trace amounts of meth, but it was not a consumable or marketable mixture. The defendant relied on an argument discussed in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S. 453 (1991). The defendant argued that the weight of any unmarketable portion of a mixture should be excluded from the weight of the controlled substance. However, the Supreme Court did not adopt the defendant’s position in Chapman. Instead, the Court ultimately adopted the “market-oriented” approach, under which the total quantity of what is distributed, rather than the amount of the pure drug involved, is used to determine the length of the sentence.