Drug trafficking cases in Florida are very serious felony cases that come with significant penalties. These crimes typically have mandatory minimum prison sentences which means that if a person is convicted of drug trafficking, he/she will have to serve a minimum number of years in prison depending on the severity of the case unless the criminal defense lawyer can work out a different resolution. Some people might think that the crime of drug trafficking only applies to serious drug dealers who transport large quantities of drugs. That is not necessarily the case. Many drug trafficking cases involve drug users who happen to possess a quantity of drugs over the weight limit. In Florida, it does not take a large quantity of most drugs to reach the trafficking category since Florida drug laws are so harsh.
In many cases, the police seize multiple packages of a drug. For instance, if the police find a person with several different bags of suspected cocaine, can the police aggregate those bags together to reach the trafficking threshold? Does the state have to test each bag to make sure each bag contains cocaine?
In a recent cocaine trafficking case in Jacksonville, Florida, the Jacksonville police executed a search warrant at the defendant’s house and found nine separate bags of cocaine inside. The nine bags were later sent to the crime lab where drug identification tests are normally conducted by the state. The state combined the nine bags into one bag, the chemist tested the substance from that one bag and weighed it. The chemical test was positive for cocaine, and the weight of the combined bags was greater than 200 grams which makes it a serious felony cocaine trafficking case.
The criminal defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss the cocaine trafficking case arguing it was improper for the state to combine the difference bags of alleged cocaine and test the single combined bag. The criminal defense attorney argued the state was required to test each bag separately for cocaine and then weigh them to see if the weight reached the trafficking threshold.
The idea behind the criminal defense lawyer’s objection is if one or more of the bags is not cocaine, but it/they are combined with bags that do contain cocaine, some legal substance that is not cocaine will be used by the state to contribute to the weight and reach the trafficking threshold unlawfully. In other words, the state will use some non-cocaine substance to make its trafficking case.
In this case, the lower court found that the state’s actions were legal to obtain a trafficking conviction. The court looked at the circumstances of the case and the evidence to suggest that all of the bags contained cocaine. This included: statements of the defendant suggesting that he knew the bags contained cocaine, drug paraphernalia found near the alleged cocaine and the fact that the police officer claimed to have field tested each bag which resulted in positive field tests. Based on this, the court decided there was sufficient reason to believe each bag contained cocaine and therefore could be combined for weighing purposes.
However, the appellate court overruled the lower court and found that each bag of cocaine must be chemically tested if the contents of each bag are going to be used by the state to reach the trafficking threshold. This applies to any drug that poses the risk of misidentification such as cocaine since there are other white, powdery substances that can be used or sold to look like cocaine. The court said this does not apply to drugs that do not carry the risk of misidentification, although the court did not specify any such drugs.