It is illegal to possess prescription drugs in Florida without a valid prescription. The type and quantity of the prescription drug can determine the charges and potential sentence in a Broward County drug crime case. For example, it is a third-degree felony to possess hydrocodone in a quantity less than 14 grams without a prescription. If you exceed that threshold amount, you can be charged with hydrocodone trafficking. In a Florida appellate decision, the defendant challenged his conviction and 3-year sentence for trafficking in hydrocodone. He challenged the lower court’s denial of his motions to suppress statements and argued that Florida Statute section 893.101 transformed into an unconstitutional strict liability statute section 893.135(1)(c)1, the law under which he was convicted.
The case arose when a deputy was on patrol in a residential area and saw someone lying in the yard of a home. Although it was raining, the person lay there without moving, with his truck door open and the keys left in the ignition with the radio on. Nobody was there and the home was dark. From his car, the deputy shone his light on the person, and the person got up and went towards the officer. The deputy got out of the car and came up to him. The deputy asked the man for identification.
The man went to the truck, and the deputy followed. The man gave his driver’s license to the deputy. The deputy saw he seemed drunk; he was slurring his speech and he was unsteady. The defendant explained the home belonged to his estranged wife’s sister and he thought his wife was there. After he showed his license and put his wallet back in the truck, he seemed to be trying to hide a clear plastic bag of white pills that was there on the seat with the wallet. The deputy asked him to step aside and grabbed the bag. He asked what was in the bag. The defendant told him it was Lortab and said, voluntarily, he’d bought the pills for $10 a pill, and had previously gone to jail for this.
He was charged with possession of prescription drugs. He moved to suppress the pills, arguing that when the deputy grabbed the plastic bag, he didn’t have probable cause to believe the pills were contraband. He also moved to suppress his incriminating statements, claiming that when he’d said he bought the Lortab pills, he was under custodial interrogation and hadn’t been given Miranda warnings.
The appellate court explained that police-citizen encounters are divided into consensual encounters, investigatory stops, and formal arrests. In consensual encounters, law enforcement officer can come up to a person to ask questions or ask for identification, but the person can decline the requests and go. Simply asking questions isn’t a detention under the Fourth Amendment. A temporary investigatory stop is permitted if an officer has an articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Consensual encounters turn into Terry stops where an officer makes an official show of authority out of which a reasonable person would determine he isn’t free to end the stop. In order to make an arrest, an officer needs to have probable cause a crime has been or is being perpetrated.
The court explained that in this case, the defendant agreed that initially he was in a consensual encounter. The court agreed with the defendant that the encounter turned into an investigatory detention when the deputy asked the defendant to move aside and took the pills from the car and began asking questions. This was a show of authority and most people would realize they weren’t free to terminate the encounter at that point.
The appellate court explained that whether an officer has a basis to suspect criminal activity is decided by the totality of circumstances. The circumstances may have shown a reasonable belief he was under the influence of what was in the pills, but they weren’t enough to trigger a reasonable suspicion he was in illegal possession of a controlled substance. The incriminating nature of the pills wasn’t so immediate the deputy had probable cause to grab them. Accordingly, the appellate court found the investigatory detention unlawful for lack of reasonable suspicion and the seizing of the pills illegitimate for lack of probable cause. The conviction and sentence were reversed.
At The Hoffman Firm, we represent people accused of crimes involving prescription drugs in Broward County. During a consultation, our lawyer can review the charges and go over your concerns, including issues related to potential sentencing. Call us at (954) 524-4474 or (800) 223-1866, or contact us via our online form.