Possession of Cocaine Charge
Many individuals are unaware that possession of cocaine of any amount is a felony offense in the State of Florida. There are several different types of offenses that an individual may be charged with relating to cocaine:
- Possession of Powder Cocaine;
- Possession of Crack Cocaine;
- Sale of Cocaine; and
- Trafficking in Cocaine.
Defenses to a Possession, Sale or Trafficking of Cocaine Offense
The laws surrounding cocaine prosecutions in the State of Florida are complex. The facts and circumstances of each case are unique. As a result, defenses available for each case should be individually tailored based on the facts and evidence in each prosecution. Below are common defenses that exist in criminal cases involving cocaine:
- Knowledge Defense – A necessary element in proving that a defendant “possessed” cocaine is that the State must establish that he or she had knowledge of the presence of the contraband. Thus, if a piece of crack cocaine is located on the floorboard of a jointly-occupied vehicle, the State may not be able to establish knowledge.
- Chemical Testing Defense – Occasionally, roadside “presumptive” testing is found to be unreliable and later chemical testing using a machine known as a gas chromatograph reveals that the substance is not actually cocaine.
- Weight Defense – In cases involving an allegation of “trafficking,” the weight of the substance is of critical importance. In “close cases,” an independent expert is retained to weigh the substance in an effort to demonstrate that the simple possession of the substance did not rise to the level of trafficking.
Consequences of Cocaine Offenses
It is very common for prosecutors in Pinellas County to seek a sentence that includes random drug testing, a substance abuse evaluation, and counseling or treatment for any type of cocaine offense. Florida law likewise requires a mandatory one-year driver’s license revocation upon conviction for any Possession of Cocaine offense.
Sale of Cocaine is a second-degree felony. Under Florida law, the court must impose a felony conviction for a Sale of Cocaine offense unless mitigation is presented to the Court to justify a “Withholding of Adjudication.” Of course, a conviction for a felony will result in many collateral consequences. These include:
- Losing the right to vote
- Losing the right to own, purchase or possess firearms
- Difficulty renting an apartment
- Inability to find meaningful employment
It is not uncommon for the prosecutor to suggest to the Judge that some jail time is appropriate if the individual’s criminal record reflects a prior conviction for drug possession, cultivation, or sale. In felony cases, where the facts are aggravated or the individual’s criminal punishment code “scoresheet” requires, the State will seek a prison sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections. A conviction for Trafficking in Cocaine requires a minimum-mandatory state prison sentence.
- Early Intervention:In some cases, our early intervention may result in the State Attorney choosing not to file charges against you.
- Getting the Charge Dismissed:In some cases, a formal conviction can be avoided by securing your participation in a “diversion program.” Successful completion of such a program results in a dismissal of the charge.
- Plea Bargains:Negotiating directly with the State Attorney can often be effective tool for securing a favorable outcome. Our office may direct our client to complete tasks in advance of a “plea bargain” so that we can present the case in the most positive light. In others, the facts themselves are used to appeal to the prosecutor that an amendment of the charge is appropriate. For example, in cases involving a “trace amount” of cocaine in a pipe, it may be possible to seek a reduction to the misdemeanor offense of “Possession of Paraphernalia.”
- Avoiding Conviction:As noted above, the consequences of a felony conviction are harsh, and often permanent. In some cases, our office is able to negotiate with the prosecutor to secure an agreement that the Court “Withhold Adjudication.” Such an outcome will allow our client to deny that he was “convicted” of the cocaine offense. A “Withhold of Adjudication” will also avoid the driver license suspension and the loss of civil rights that would otherwise occur on a felony conviction.
- Getting Your Records Sealed:Although securing a dismissal through a diversion program or avoiding a conviction with a “Withholding of Adjudication” are both desirable outcomes, both leave the blemish of a felony arrest on our client’s record. Our office routinely counsels clients to take the final step to secure a sealing or expungement. This legal remedy removes the record of arrest from public record and allows our client to truthfully deny that the arrest ever occurred.
Our Team of Highly Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You Navigate the Process
Facing a cocaine offense, of any kind, can be stressful and daunting. Put our experience to work for you. Our courtroom-tested lawyers will work with you to evaluate all of the options that exist for defending your case and select the course of action that is best in your unique case. If you have been charged with a cocaine offense in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Belleair, Safety Harbor, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, Kenneth City, Largo, Gulfport, Treasure Island, Indian Shores, Indian Rocks, Redington Shores, Madeira Beach, Tierra Verde and St. Pete Beach, call our office for a free consultation.