Most people associate drug trafficking in Broward County with drug lords and kingpins. However, you can be charged with trafficking prescription drugs in Florida even if you do not see yourself this way, based simply on the quantity of drugs with which you were caught. In a recent case, the defendant and five others were charged with multiple crimes including trafficking in contraband drugs, conspiracy to traffic in contraband prescription drugs, organized scheme to defraud, and five counts of money laundering.
The defendant pled guilty to eight counts. In a plea colloquy, the court inquired about whether the defendant was under the influence or prescription medications, drugs, or alcohol. The defendant answered that he was and explained, upon inquiry from the court, that he took prescription drugs for his mental health for brain contusions after being in a coma. He explained that he’d been in an accident and had a lot of problems. The judge explained it was trying to determine whether he could make an intelligent and knowing waiver of rights and couldn’t make this finding because he couldn’t understand the answers. The defendant stated that his mental health symptoms weren’t affecting him at the time of the plea and that his medication was controlling those symptoms. However, he also noted he had multiple seizures every day, several times a day.
The defense attorney said he didn’t have issues with competency. The court inquired further and explained the rest of the standard plea colloquy. The defendant said he understood the plea and its consequences. The court accepted the guilty pleas as voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently entered.
During the sentencing hearing, the defendant asked for a downward departure under Florida Statute section 921.0026(2(d). He presented a neurologist’s testimony; the neurologist had treated him for 13 months after he was injured. The neurologist testified that for several months after begging injured, the defendant was passive, confused, forgetting information, and quite impaired neurologically, such that he was incompetent.
The prosecutor, however, responded by presenting witnesses to counter the claim of incompetency. A doctor with the Department of Corrections testified he’d reviewed the defendant’s medical records and didn’t observe a medical requirement that couldn’t be handled by the health care system in the carceral system. An investigating police officer testified that the defendant had managed to make $28 million in contraband prescription drugs prior to getting injured and made $15 million after begging injured. The defendant’s ex-wife testified he’d had physical impacts from his injury but had continued with his criminal enterprise and even tried to expand it. The defense attorney relied on the neurologist’s testimony in closing.
The request for a downward departure was denied. The court decided it shouldn’t depart because the defendant hadn’t gone to see the neurologist for three years and his crimes happened before and after he got injured. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The 25-year sentence was more than the defendant maximum possible sentence on count two.
The defendant appealed. He argued he’d been given an illegal sentence, improperly convicted and sentenced for one of the counts, that the lower court had made a mistake in not conducting a competency hearing, and that the defendant’s plea was not voluntary because he wasn’t competent at the time of the plea. The government conceded on the first two issues and the court reversed on these points. The appellate court determined that the third and fourth arguments raised by the defendant lacked merit.
It reasoned that the test of whether a court makes a mistake in not holding a competency hearing depends on whether the court had a reasonable ground to believe the defendant wasn’t mentally competent to go forward. Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.210(b), where the court has reasonable grounds to believe a defendant lacks mental competence to go forward it must enter an order setting a time for a hearing to determine the defendant’s mental condition. The defendant is supposed to be examined by up to 3 experts beforehand. Whether a defendant should be considered competent hinges on whether the defendant has enough present ability to consult his lawyer with a reasonable amount of rational understanding and whether he has a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings.
The appellate court found no abuse of discretion. It determined that the lower court didn’t have a reasonable ground to think the defendant was incompetent. The defense attorney hadn’t asked for a competency hearing or suggested incompetency. The court had asked questions about the brain injury and the defendant eventually testified he understood the guilty plea and its consequences. The neurologist’s testimony had been explicitly focused on the months immediately after his injury and the neurologist hadn’t treated the defendant during the three years before the plea.
The Hoffman Firm represents clients accused of drug crimes in communities all over the greater Broward County area. Our firm offers a free, confidential consultation that will allow our lawyer to review your case and help you understand all of your legal options. Call The Hoffman Firm at (305) 249-0090 or (800) 223-1866, or contact us via our online form.