Trafficking, Conspiracy, Min Mans

TRAFFICKING IN A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE

There are so many different ways to wind up arrested on a 'trafficking' charge, with each different drug carrying different minimum mandatory prison sentences, but typically the most common means of acquiring such a charge is thru the weight of the substance.  Possess over 28 grams of cocaine, for example, and you have yourself a Trafficking in Cocaine >28grams Under 200 grams charge.  However, Cannabis can behave a bit differently, as possession of greater than 300 cannabis plants (regardless of their weight) constitutes a Trafficking in Cannabis charge.

For those of you interested in the technical side of Florida's trafficking laws, it should be noted that only a couple of years ago Florida's drug laws were declared unconstitutional by a federal court.  Unfortunately, they were later found "constitutional" by the Florida courts that matter.  That being said, the analysis put forth in the federal decision is still sound reasoning, even though it's not good law.  To see how this happened, we must go back to 2002, when our Florida legislature made Florida the only state in which a drug crime could be proved without a citizen ever knowing that the substance was an illegal drug (we call this element the "scienter requirement" or "mens rea").  This change to Florida law resulted in a federal court declaring our state drug laws under section 893.13 unconstitutional.  While this was good news while it lasted, it's important to note that Florida courts were not bound by this new decision....For more details on this important analysis, check out my articles "Why Florida's Drug Law is Unconstitutional", "How Will Florida Courts Respond to Federal Court's Ruling Striking Down Florida Drug Law?",  "Florida Drug Law Declared Unconstitutional", and last but not least, "Florida Supreme Court Declares Drug Law Constitutional--Mens Rea R.I.P."

Alright, back to trafficking.  Here's the basics for proving a trafficking case.  Let's use the popular charge of Trafficking in Cocaine > 28 grams.  The state must prove four elements: (1) that the defendant knowingly purchased or possessed a certain substance, (2) the substance was cocaine, (3) the quantity was 28 grams or more, and (4) the defendant knew the substance was cocaine.

If it seems like a trafficking charge is just a trumped up possession of cocaine charge, you're right.  The problem is, the penalties are far more serious, and often times the amount of evidence, and the type of evidence, is far different than your typical possession charge.  For example, recorded telephone conversations, confidential informants, phone records, and undercover agents can play a large role in a trafficking case, whereas you don't see such evidence in a simple possession charge. 

The minimum mandatory sentences listed below are actually eligible for gain time.  Typically, min man prison sentences do not receive gain time, but that's not the case for drug trafficking charges.  Check out my article called "Gain Time on a Minimum Mandatory Sentence" for more information on this topic.  Sometimes, prison authorities are so hard headed regarding the phrase "minimum mandatory", that some inmates have had to file lawsuits against the prison system in order to get them to award gain time on trafficking charges.  One of the best examples of just such a lawsuit can be found in Mastay v. McDonough, Florida Department of Corrections, 928 So. 2d 512 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006).  In this case, the Department of Corrections denied Mastay gain time on his three year minimum mandatory sentence for trafficking in cocaine.  Technically speaking, the prison was relying on statutory language found in section 893.135(3) stating that a prisoner under a minimum mandatory sentence is "not eligible for any form of discretionary early release, except pardon or executive clemency or conditional medical release."  However, the legislature specifically deleted a phrase from the law which states that such a person shall not be eligible for any form of gain time.  The court in Mastay correctly held that all trafficking charges are eligible for gain time, but not discretionary release (yes, there is a difference).  As a side note, the court points out that several minimum mandatory sentences do, actually, prohibit gain time.  But, those statutes explicitly state such.  The trafficking statute makes no such prohibition. 

MINIMUM MANDATORY SENTENCES

Prayers were answered this year when our legislature changed the trafficking minimum mandatory sentences for trafficking in hydrocodone, and trafficking in oxycodone. Effective July 1, 2014, here are the new, improved, and less draconian guidelines:

For Trafficking in Hydrocodone, it takes a minimum of 14 grams to 28 grams to receive a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $50,000 fine,

more than 28 grams of hydrocodone, but less than 50 grams is a 7-year mandatory minimum sentence with a $100,000,

50 grams to 200 grams of hydrocodone carries a 15-year mandatory minimum prison term plus a $500,000 fine, and finally,

200 grams to 30 kilograms of hydrocodone is a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term, plus a $750,000 fine.

The punishment for Trafficking in Oxycodone has decreased as well, as of July 1, 2014, the new guidelines are:

7 grams to 14 grams of oxycodone caries a 3-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, plus a $50,000 fine,

14 grams to 25 grams of oxycodone carries a 7-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a $100,000 fine, 

25 grams to 100 grams of oxycodone carries a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, plus a $500,000 fine, and finally,

100 grams to 30 kilograms of oxycodone carries a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and a $750,000.

Here's an example of the minimum mandatory prison sentences for Trafficking in Heroin:  if you are caught with:

a. 4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 3 years, and the defendant shall be ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.

b. 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years, and the defendant shall be ordered to pay a fine of $100,000.

c. 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 25 calendar years and pay a fine of $500,000.

Trafficking in Cannabis is simply a possession of cannabis charge, but requires a bit more weight, as you might imagine,

1. In excess of 25 pounds, but less than 2,000 pounds (or 300-2,000 plants), the mandatory minimum prison term shall be 3 years, and a $25,000 fine;

2. From 2,000 pounds - 10,000 pounds (or 2,000 - 10,000 plants), the mandatory minimum prison term shall be 7 years, and a $50,000 fine;

3. From 10,000 pounds or more (or 10,000 or more cannabis plants), the mandatory minimum prison term shall be 15 calendar years, and a fine of $200,000.

Trafficking in Cocaine has minimum mandatory prison sentences as follows:

a: 28 grams - 200 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 3 years prison and a $50,000 fine;

b: 200 grams - 400 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 7 years prison and a $100,000 fine;

c: 400 grams - 150 kilograms carries a mandatory minimum term of 15 years prison and a $250,000 fine;

d: more than 150 kilograms is a first degree felony punished by life imprisonment, and shall be ineligible for any form of discretionary early release (except pardon or medical).

Trafficking in Ecstasy/MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)

a: 10 grams or more, but less than 200 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 3 years prison and a $50,000 fine;

b: 200 grams - 400 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 7 years prison and a $100,000 fine;

c: 400 grams or more carries a mandatory minimum term of 15 years prison and a $250,000 fine;

d: more than 150 kilograms is a first degree felony punished by life imprisonment, and shall be ineligible for any form of discretionary early release (except pardon or medical).

Trafficking in LSD (LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE, didn't our government invent this stuff?) [as a side note here, careful attention should be paid so that the state is not including the weight of the "paper" as part of the total drug weight, LSD's total weight can be treated differently than the total weights attributed to oxycodone pills, for example]

a: 1 gram or more, but less than 5 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 3 years prison and a $50,000 fine;

b: 5 grams - 7 grams carries a mandatory minimum term of 7 years prison and a $100,000 fine;

c: 7 grams or more carries a mandatory minimum term of 15 years prison and a $250,000 fine;

Trafficking in Methamphetamine (crystal meth, etc)

a: 14 grams to 28 grams carries a 3 year minimum mandatory prison sentence, with a minimum fine of $50,000, or,

b: 28 grams to 200 grams carries a mandatory minimum 7 years prison, plus a $100,000 fine, and,

c: 200 grams or more carries a 15 year minimum mandatory prison sentence, plus a $250,000 fine.

There are lots of factors that criminal lawyer John Guidry will consider when defending trafficking charges, so let's start with some basics. 

BASICS OF TRAFFICKING DEFENSE

First we challenge the circumstances of your arrest. If you were stopped in your vehicle, did the officer have legal grounds to make the stop? Is there a constructive possession issue?  Was the search of your home, person, or car legal? Was the warrant issued to conduct the search legal?  Did others have access to where the drugs were found?  [for more info on car searches with multiple passengers, check out my article Junk in the Trunk, Again] Are statements of co-defendant or co-conspirator admissible, and without co-defendant will the defendant's constitutional right to confront his accuser be violated?  Was the conduct of the officers and Confidential Witnesses legal, was the accused entrapped?  Did defendant have access to place where drugs were found (i.e. a locked safe)?

The weight of the drug plays a crucial role in a trafficking case.  Thus, if the weight is just over the trafficking amount (i.e., say 30 grams of cocaine), then a Motion to Re-Weigh Evidence may be filed.  In such a case, we're asking the judge to allow our defense expert, a scientist with his own lab, to re-weigh the evidence, often times using methods that involve heating up the drug to allow the moisture to be released, but not so much heat as to change the chemical composition of the drug.  With less moisture, we have a more scientifically accurate account of how much of the drug was actually "trafficked".  Some courts will grant such a motion, some will not.  It costs the defendant a bit of money to hire such an expert ($950-$1,750), but the payoff can be huge, because in close weight cases we don't want to take FDLE's word on such an important issue.  As you might suspect, the weights brought back by government paid FDLE workers can vary greatly from those numbers produced by unbiased, independent labs. Often times, the state's labs are not weighing the drugs correctly, and challenges can be brought based upon these procedures (or lack thereof).  For more details on how these cases can be overturned due to weighing issues, take a look at my article entitled "How to Weigh Drugs in a Trafficking Case."

The weight of a drug can be an even tougher issue in a trafficking in hydrocodone case. The Florida Statutes define the weight of a controlled substance as the total weight of the mixture within which the controlled substance.  This makes for a completely unscientific calculation of actual weight of the illegal substance.  To see how this works, let's consider cases involve Vicodin pills, which contain 500 mg acetominiphen (tylonol, legal) and 5 mg hydrocodone (illegal). Doing the math here, 100 pills of Vicodin will weigh approximately 50.5 grams (enough for a big trafficking charge), but there's only about 1 gram of hydrocodone total, scientifically speaking. Unfortunately, some courts have held that the State is entitled to convict a defendant based on the entire weight of the pills including the filler substances, even though the actual, scientific, weight of the illegal substance is far less.  Our Federal government no longer counts the entire weight of the pill for trafficking purposes, yet Florida seems to lag behind in such reasonable logic.  For more information on this issue, read my article entitled "Federal Government Abandoned Unfair Trafficking Sentences Long Ago, Florida Courts Still Holding On".  Thankfully, our legislature recently passed a bill to lighten the minimum mandatory sentences on oxycodone and hydrocodone, effective July 1, 2014.  However, it is still disturbing that our legislative branch continues to create mandatory sentences for all sorts of misdemeanor and felony crimes, thus limiting the sentencing abilities of the judicial branch (yes, this is a story for another day).

There are still many defenses available to defeat a trafficking charge, one such defense is known as the "prescription defense".  The main reason we have such a defense on the books is that many Orlando citizens do not carry their medicine around in the required pill bottle.  As such, when the police see the pills without a bottle, they simply make an arrest, rather than doing an actual "investigation" (remember when the police did such things?) to show that a drug was--in fact--properly prescribed. 

CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT...

And what discussion of trafficking would be complete without mentioning conspiracy issues.  Yes, many trafficking cases are really "conspiracy to commit" trafficking cases.  Where the accused's involvement in the conspiracy enterprise appears to be minimal at best, with no prearrangements or meetings with the other defendants, Florida courts been inclined to dismiss such conspiracy charges.  In order “[t]o establish a conspiracy and appellant's participation in it, the state must prove ‘an express or implied agreement or understanding between two or more persons to commit a criminal offense,’ and an intention to commit that offense.” Sheriff v. State, 780 So.2d 920, 921 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001). “Direct proof of the agreement is not necessary; it may be inferred from the circumstances.” Arguelles v. State, 842 So.2d 939 at 944. Florida courts have upheld conspiracy convictions where defendants are involved in a series of meetings, arrangements and negotiations to sell or buy illegal drugs that lead to such sale or purchase. Pino v. State, 573 So.2d 151, 152 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991). 

Often times, lazy prosecutors will charge a citizen with conspiracy simply because the person was found to be present during a drug transaction.  In other words, the State has no proof of an "agreement".  One Florida court put it nicely, stating that when "the defendant [is] merely present at the scene of the crime, had knowledge of the crime, or even aided others in the commission of the crime", such instances are "inadequate, without more, to sustain a conspiracy conviction" Dieujuste v. State. 86 So.3d 1209 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) citing Jackson v. State, 74 So.3d at 563.  For further reading on cases without proof of an agreement, check out my article "Conspiracies are Everywhere".

Yes, all of this is complex, and new case law is coming out every day changing our analysis.  Thus, all the more reason to give criminal attorney John Guidry a call to discuss these issues.  Don't talk to the police, or even your friends about your case, make sure you call me first.  Thanks.