Can Florida Prosecutors Use Evidence of Drug Possession to Bolster a DUI Charge?

In Jacksonville, Florida, it is not uncommon for a person to be arrested and charged for a possession of drugs (such as marijuana or cocaine) in addition to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, depending on the circumstances, the prosecutors are not allowed to use evidence of one crime to bolster the other.

For example, in Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer reported that a driver was swerving on the road and pulled him over. The officer indicated that the driver smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. After the DUI (aka driving under the influence or DWI) investigation, the police officer arrested the driver because he felt the driver was under the influence of alcohol to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired. When a person is arrested, he/she will be searched by the police officer. In this case, the police officer found a small bag of marijuana on the driver. As a result, an additional charge of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana (a misdemeanor charge) was added. If this case went to trial, should both charges be tried together?

A criminal defense attorney would likely decide to separate the charges so that two different juries decided the two different charges. This would be done pursuant to a motion to sever the two charges. Why? Because the defendant has a right to have a fair determination of his guilt, or lack thereof, on each charge. Whether the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and impaired while driving and whether he was in possession of marijuana are two different issues. However, if a jury heard evidence of both alleged crimes together, a jury could easily be prejudiced and let the evidence of one crime influence their decision on the other crime. In other words, a juror might assume that a person who drives drunk would be more likely to possess marijuana or a person who carries a bag of marijuana with him probably drives while impaired. This would violate the defendant’s rights and be improper. As a result, those two charges should not be tried together.

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