Florida is a prime target for the import and export of illegal drugs into the United States. Since our state is surrounded by water on three sides, we have over a dozen ports, many of them major shipping ports. And as you might imagine, traffickers are actively trying to use these ports to get drugs into, and out of, the country.
United States Customs and Border Protection agents are well aware of this issue, and in February they had a particularly big month. Agents discovered 154 pounds of cocaine – worth an estimated $2 million – at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. The drugs were hidden on a ship coming from Ecuador.
Situated between Peru and Colombia in South America, Ecuador has become a major hub for cocaine trafficking. Earlier in February, Ecuador’s government announced that they stopped a ship flying the Ecuador flag with about 1,800 pounds of cocaine on board. That’s almost one ton of cocaine with a street value of around $23 million.
Along with an increase of trafficking from Ecuador, the U.S. still has to worry about cocaine – as well as other drugs – coming from Colombia, Peru, and the Mexican/Central American corridor, where almost 90 percent of the cocaine on the streets is transported to the U.S.
Bringing drugs into the United States on such a large scale is a serious offense, and most people are well aware of this fact. But what about drug trafficking within our own country – or even our own state?
For anyone accused of drug trafficking here in Florida, you’ll potentially face extremely serious consequences. Florida takes illicit drug crimes very seriously, and the laws and penalties reflect that.
Drug Trafficking Laws in Florida
Drug trafficking laws in Florida are particularly thorough and clear.
For a drug crime to be considered “trafficking” there is really only one major requirement: the supposed offender must be in possession of a certain amount of a drug or controlled substance.
It is very important to note that, according to the law, trafficking doesn’t solely refer to importing, exporting, or transporting drugs from one place to another. Trafficking refers to the amount of drugs in question. Merely by being in possession of more than the legally specified amount can cause you to be charged with trafficking.
The argument behind this is that if someone is in possession of a large amount of drugs, they couldn’t possibly be for personal use.
It is important to know that the Florida statutes list a number of drugs and different amounts for each drug that qualify them for trafficking. So the definition of a “large amount” varies greatly depending on the substance.
Drugs and amounts listed in the statute include, but are not limited to:
- 25 pounds (or 300 plants) of cannabis
- 28 grams or more of cocaine
- 4 grams or more of heroin
- 14 grams or more of hydrocodone
- 7 grams or more of oxycodone
- 28 grams or more of phencyclidine
- 14 grams or more of methamphetamine or amphetamine
- 1 gram or more of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
Almost all drug trafficking offenses are first degree felonies, but the actual penalty depends upon the amount of drugs in question. Because, when it comes to drugs, the greater the amount, the greater the penalty.
For example, if someone is in possession of 25 to 2,000 pounds of marijuana, they can be subjected to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years. If that amount is between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds, that mandatory minimum increases to 7 years. And if the amount is over 10,000 pounds? A 15-year mandatory minimum sentence would be imposed.
Defending against Trafficking Charges
Although Florida’s laws and penalties are severe when it comes to drug trafficking, your case isn’t hopeless. There are a number of defenses an experienced Florida drug trafficking attorney might be able to use depending on the facts of your case.
The prosecution has to be able to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that every element of the drug trafficking charge is present. For example, one of the most common issues in building an effective defense would be whether you were knowingly involved in drug trafficking.
Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe you were only intending to purchase a small amount. In these cases, your charges could be dismissed, dropped, or reduced to simple drug possession.
A qualified attorney will also investigate whether the search and seizure by law enforcement was valid and whether the amount of drugs is actually enough to be considered trafficking. With the help of a skilled attorney, you can be sure your case and your freedom are in good hands.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.