Articles Posted in Drug Offenses & Drug Trafficking

In a criminal case, there are many details that both the prosecution and the defense must manage. The law imposes many requirements, both large and small, on the state regarding how it carries out a prosecution in order to ensure compliance with the Constitution and to make certain that justice is done.

In a recent case originating in South Florida, a man accused of conspiring to manufacture illegal drugs obtained a reversal of his conviction because the state charged him of conspiring with a man named “Webb” but then presented a case involving the defendant and a man named “Hicks.” The Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that, under the specifics of this case, that error required overturning the conviction.

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What Are Punishments For Drug Paraphernalia In Florida?

Drug paraphernalia is a first-degree misdemeanor, and it would technically include anything that was used or that could be used to inject an elicit substance. It could be anything like a pipe from a smoke shop, or even an apple the person had in their fridge if it had been used in a way that was meant to use drugs.

Examples of common objects that are used for paraphernalia include taking insulin needles from a diabetic and using it to inject illicit drugs, or a pipe from a smoke shop and using it to smoke marijuana.

A person can technically be charged with having paraphernalia if they had a spoon with some burn marks that had some heroin residue. The plastic casing of a pen that had been used in some drug activity or an apple that had been used to smoke marijuana can also be considered paraphernalia.

How Does The Prosecution Or Police Go About Proving Something Is Drug Related?

Anybody can have a spoon, but if the spoon had burn marks and heroin residue, then that may be the difference between the spoon and paraphernalia.

Anybody can have a plastic bag but if the plastic bag smelled like drugs, or it looked like it was recently used, it would go to a lab and if they were able to prove there were remnants or traces of drugs, then that plastic bag could be considered paraphernalia.

If somebody made a bong out of an apple and there was marijuana residue in that, then that would also be considered paraphernalia.

What Kind Of Testing Would Be Done?

It would not always have to go to the lab for testing, because obviously if there was a large amount of marijuana found in a car and there were empty plastic bags nearby and a few remnants of marijuana, then without even lab testing, the police officer maybe able to arrest the individual for paraphernalia using defense admissions, portable drug tests or a combination.

Note: This is a four-part series with part one and part two located by clicking on the links.

For more information on Drug Paraphernalia In Saint Petersburg, Florida, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (727) 286-6141 today. Continue reading

In part two of the four-part series “Drug charges in Florida”, we talk about “doctor shopping” and “pill mills” and their rapid growth in Florida.

Have Drugs Crimes Become An Issue Recently?

While drugs offenses have always carried serious penalties, the “war on drugs” starting in the ‘70s and ‘80s have greatly increased prison penalties for many drugs.  Unlike cocaine or heroin, some drugs like oxycodone have legitimate medical purposes although they are highly addictive and highly regulated.

Where Does The Pill Mill Fall On That Scale?

So called “Pill mill” drugs like Oxycodone are found under Florida Statute 893.03 and the vast majority of them are schedule 2 drugs. This means that if the person basically had even one pill without a valid doctor’s prescription, it would be considered a third-degree felony which could be up to 5 years in prison.

How Is Doctor Shopping Punishable?

Doctor shopping”, or going to multiple doctors for the purpose of receiving prescription drugs, forged doctor’s prescriptions, prescription fraud among other offenses, the punishment would range anywhere from a second degree misdemeanor to serious felonies.

What Does Doctor Shopping Refer To?

This would refer to the patient hiding an injury, or going to one doctor’s office and not telling the doctor they were being treated from another doctor, and then begging for pills and then going to another doctor’s office and doing the same thing.

Are Doctor Shopping Cases Becoming More Common?

This definitely used to be a problem, but recently the State of Florida and the Gulf Coast, in particular, have been doing some crackdowns, and although it is still a problem, it is not nearly as bad as it used to be up until a few years ago.

For more information on Prescription Drug Crimes , a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by  clicking on the contact button or by calling (727) 286-6141 today.

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The Smoking Gun website has a brief blurb about a wheelchair-bound lady who was one of the main heroin dealers for a Florida gang!

Sweet 74-year-old Ruth Perez-Lopez was the largest heroin dealer for a local drug ring known for selling cocaine, prescription pills and marijuana.  According to the police, the lady sold her drugs in a fortified Orlando-area house featuring reinforced doors, high tech security and plenty of firearms.

Ms. Perez-Lopez was arrested after the culmination of a year-long state and federal operation.  The name?  Operation “Deals on Wheels” of course!

Perez-Lopez was arrested for heroin trafficking and conspiracy, both of which are felonies. As of this writing she is being held in the Orange County lockup in lieu of $650,000 bond.

Police are estimating that Ruth sold two kilos of heroin per month out of the Orlando home she shared with two co-defendants.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

As mentioned before, drug trafficking carries with it a “minimum mandatory” prison sentence.  This depends on the amount of the illegal narcotics but the minimum mandatory sentence ranges between three and 25 years in prison.  A “minimum mandatory” means NO parole, time off for good behavior or good gain time.  It means the prison sentence is served straight in prison.

With minimum mandatory sentences, even the judge has no power to go below them.  Only an agreed upon departure with the state attorney can reduce this sentence.  Many times the state attorney will agree to “depart” or go below the sentencing guidelines.  There are multiple reasons why the state may choose to depart.  These reasons include the defendant cooperating with the police or state, mental health issues, drug addiction, victim requests, etc.

In this case, a possible departure from the mandatory sentence may involve the suspect’s age.  A 74-year-old facing 25 years in prison is basically looking at a life sentence.  Depending on the defendant’s prior criminal history, reasons for selling drugs and possible cooperation with the police, the state attorney may agree to reduce her prison sentence considerably. Continue reading

A guest post from Maria Stefanski, who is part of a nonprofit.  The link has several interesting articles on heroin and drug abuse.  If you or someone you love is facing addiction, please get the help that is needed!

Over the past few decades, politicians, corporations, and community leaders have focused much attention and effort in an attempt to curb drunk driving. Much of this social movement can be traced back 35 years, to the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Since 1980, MADD has become one of the most widely supported and respected non-profit organizations in the U.S.

To understand the impact MADD has had on American society, some milestones are worth considering:

  • 1982
    • Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving formed
    • Bill enacted giving states federal highway funds for anti-drunk driving efforts
    • 100 MADD chapters by year-end
  • 1983
    • An NBC made-for-TV movie about MADD airs
    • 129 new anti-drunk driving laws pass by year-end
  • 1984
  • Federal 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act signed into law on July 17
  • More than 330 MADD chapters in 47 states by year-end
  • 1988
    • All states and D.C. pass federal 21 drinking age law
    • Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act signed—amendments include extending crime victim compensation rights to DUI/DWI victims and increased incentives for states enacting key DUI?DWI laws
  • 1994
    • Alcohol-related deaths drop to a 30-year low
    • Chronicle of Philanthropy survey names MADD America’s most popular charity
  • 2000
    • MADD grows to approximately 600 chapters and 2 million member/supporters
    • National .08 BAC measure (part of the Federal Transportation Appropriations Bill) signed into law Oct. 23
  • 2004
    • First Law Enforcement Leadership Council held
    • MADD testifies before Congress in the U.S. House Education Reform Subcommittee on underage drinking issues
    • All states and D.C. pass .08 BAC as the legal drunk driving limit (MADD).

The changes MADD has spearheaded rival those of any other social movement in American history. In the U.S., because of MADD, since it was founded in 1980, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Perhaps now it is time begin efforts at targeting and isolating the dangers of driving while high—that is, the dangers of driving under the influence of prescription pills, heroin and other illicit drugs.

Studies have shown that, much the same as alcohol, heroin, prescription opiates, and the class of sedatives known as benzodiazepines slow reaction time, decrease motor coordination, and cause dizziness and drowsiness—each of these factors alone increase the likelihood of accidents. At present, no measure of drug impairment (like BAC in drunk driving) has been determined to reflect exactly how much of a drug effects ones driving ability. But, because even small amounts of certain drugs can have a measurable effect, some states have zero tolerance laws for drugged driving: if there is any amount of drug in the blood or urine of a driver in these states, the driver can face charges for driving under the influence (DUI). Some drugged driving detection techniques used by law enforcement include testing drivers identified as impaired who do not have a BAC exceeding the legal limit and employing Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) at roadside checkpoints (Stop Drugged Driving). While the prevalence rates of drugged driving are difficult to determine because of this lack of specific legal limit for BAC, the following data clearly illustrates a need for further, and prompt, research and action:

In 2013, 9.9 million persons, or 3.8 percent of the population aged 12 or older, reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. This rate was lower than the rate in 2002 (4.7 percent), but was similar to the rate in 2012 (3.9 percent). Across age groups, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2013 was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (10.6 percent); this rate for young adults was lower than the rate in 2012 (11.9 percent). Additionally, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased from 2.3 percent in 2012 to 1.9 percent in 2013 (SAMHSA 2014).

Just as it is difficult to accurately determine the prevalence of drugged driving, determining the number of accidents caused by drugged driving offers a similar challenge. A few reasons for this challenge include: a) a good roadside test (like the breathalyzer test for alcohol) for drug levels in the body does not yet exist. b) people are not usually tested for drugs if they are above the legal limit for alcohol because there is already enough evidence for a DUI charge. c) many drivers who cause accidents are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know what substance had the greater effect (NIH, 2015).

The problem, and dangers, of drugged driving are most apparent within the teen/young adult portion of the population. According to data presented by Teen Driver Source (2015), putting aside the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among adolescents and the greatest lifetime chance of crashing occurs during the first six months after obtaining a driver’s license. While distractions, following too closely, and an overall underestimation of the dangerousness of a situation are commonly cited factors in teen crashes, add drugs to the equation and it’s a recipe for disaster. For example:

A study of college students with access to a car found that 1 in 6 (about 17 percent) had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the past year. Of those students, 57 to 67 percent did so at least three times and 27 to 37 percent at least 10 times. Marijuana was the most common drug used, followed by cocaine Continue reading

A quick blurb from the Miami Herald about the federal government stepping up their efforts to curb synthetic marijuana.  Also known as “spice”, this drug is potentially deadly.  What makes it so dangerous is the unknown chemical mixtures that are added, sometimes at random.  As there is no purity and no set recipe, “spice” has already been implicated in dozens of hospitalizations and even deaths in Florida.  Now the feds may be striking back…

Last week, ten men were charged with conspiracy for their roles in manufacturing synthetic marijuana, some of it laced with dangerous or deadly chemicals.  Their plan?  To distribute the drug throughout New York City.

Known as “spice” or K2, this drug is smoked like normal pot.  As mentioned above, hospitals nationwide are seeing the results of bad “spice”.  There has been a large uptick in emergency room visits because of bad reactions to this drug.  Victims are suffering from hallucinations, psychotic episodes and even heart problems.

In this case, the federal indictment came from a yearlong investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  The indictment claims the defendants were importing large amounts of illegal synthetic ingredients from China.  This included a mix of chemicals that are illegal in the United States.  The defendants were mixing the chemicals with tea leaves and selling them for only $5 a packet.  Using brand names such as “Green Giant”, “Psycho” and “AK-47”, the defendants were doing a brisk business, selling them in head shops and convenience stores.

While the men were being arrested, agents were simultaneously raiding businesses and warehouses that were suspected of making and/or selling the “spice”.  Agents seized 275,000 of the K2 packets (valued at $30 million!) and  over 450 pounds of chemicals used to make the product.

In New York alone, there were over 1,100 emergency room visits per month as a result of synthetic marijuana.   Poison control centers calls about this drug were up over 225 percent over 2014 calls.  Will this federal crackdown help?  It is a good start.  From the ten defendants named, four are currently fugitives and six have already appeared in a Manhattan federal court.

When marijuana is being decriminalized in so many states, why the uptick in this synthetic drug that is proven to be so dangerous?  Experts don’t know for sure but think that the low price and easy availability in most cities make it a “go to” drug for both poor addicts and bored suburban teens alike. Continue reading

From the Tampa Bay Times, a wanted fugitive finds out the hard way not to mess with the Pinellas Park K9 unit…

25-year-old John Hagin was a wanted fugitive out of Georgia. According to the Pinellas Park police, he had a warrant for possession of meth. Police were called out to a motel on US 19 for a domestic battery call. Hagin had already left the area but his troubles were just beginning.

Police found him walking nearby. When the suspect saw law enforcement, he fled into a nearby park. The police sent their K9 after him. What occurred next is unclear but either the dog bit Hagin first or Hagin punched the K9. The police dog was not injured.

As for the fugitive? He was arrested and taken to a local hospital. Besides his Georgia warrant, he was also charged with resisting arrest, domestic battery by strangulation and assaulting a police dog. As of this writing, he is still sitting in Pinellas County jail.
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This past Tuesday, America went to the polls. In Pinellas County and throughout Florida, amendment two was on the ballot. This allowed for the legalization of medical marijuana. Supporters claimed it was compassionate and the right thing to do. Opponents said it was full of loopholes and was a backdoor to legalization. As it was a constitutional amendment it needed 60% support to pass. It fell short at just over 57%.

While the TampaBay Times did not support this amendment, it did a series of articles showing both positive and negative aspects of marijuana legalization. While we wait for 2016 and perhaps another try, individual human stories often don’t get told.

For Pasco jail inmate Amanda Gould, it was another day, another violation of probation. She had already spent 60 days in jail for her VOP. She felt confident that the judge would release her.

Two months prior, Ms. Gould had violated her DUI probation for failing a drug screen by smoking marijuana.

On her court date, the probation officer recommended she continue on probation. The judge examined her medical records and disagreed. He saw her extensive drug history (both prescription and non-prescription) and thought her staying on probation was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

Her criminal defense lawyer disagreed. He claimed that she was chronically ill and all her drug use was related to her sickness. The lawyer even argued that her marijuana use was part of her self medication. Her attorney further argued that she would be a prime candidate for medical marijuana.

The judge disagreed and was looking at sending her to prison (confinement for over a year).

Doctors have diagnosed 36-year-old Ms.Gould with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, Sjogren’s syndrome and two dozen more illnesses. She has been prescribed oxycodone and other addictive drugs. These prescriptions caused her to throw up and changed her personality. When she found marijuana, she noticed no side effects.

She was doing fine until she picked up a driving under the influence charge six years ago. She was pulled over, found to be drinking and had a zanax pill in her pocket. She was charged with DUI, possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance and introduction of contraband into a detention facility (a third-degree felony).

Due in part to her medications and her illnesses, she was not found competent to stand trial until 2013. She accepted a plea bargain of two year’s probation, and 50 community service hours for the DUI and marijuana possession.

Her health continued to deteriorate. She was now on more medications and often confined to a wheelchair. Due to her drug screens, she was no longer allowed to smoke marijuana.

One night, she felt extra sick and smoked a joint. Her drug tests came up positive and her probation was violated. For most probation violations in Pinellas, your bond is revoked and you sit in jail until your court date.

Ms. Gould was not an exception, sitting in jail all this time. She tried to stay positive and was happy that jail made her kick her prescription drug addiction. She also started thinking of moving to Colorado, where marijuana is legal.

A few days after this article was first published, the court heard her case and decided to keep her on probation. The judge gave her one year of drug offender probation with the condition of NO prescription drugs or marijuana.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

While everything appeared to have worked out for Ms. Gould in this particular case, she was very fortunate. There is no marijuana legalization coming until at least 2016.

Possession of marijuana, found under Florida statute 893.13, is a first-degree misdemeanor. This means that she can be sent to jail or put on probation for up to 12 months.

Prescription pill offenses, found under the same Florida statute number, are considered third-degree felonies. Those pills, if no prescription, are considered the same as cocaine or heroin under Florida law.

A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years prison or probation in Florida.
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It is an accepted fact that prescription pill abuse is a major problem in Florida. There have been articles mentioning pill mills and talk that cracking down on them has helped fuel the rise of heroin in Florida. Now a great article in the Tampa Bay Times website talks about a growing backlash amongst doctors about “too strict” regulations that are affecting their ability to prescribe these pills to the patients who most need them…

A Tampa doctor who once led the fight to curtail prescription drug abuse and the fatal overdoses that resulted from it, is now on a new crusade. He is wanting to increase the access to the same drugs he once fought to reduce.

Despite an almost 25% decline in prescription pill “OD” deaths in just the past few years, Tampa Dr. Rafael Miguel is now hoping to loosen the same laws he once championed. The reason? Too many pharmacies are now refusing to fill the prescriptions or even questioning the medical professionals as to the necessity of the drugs.

Thanks to the efforts of Doctor Miguel and others like him, the DEA began to fine drug companies and pharmacies for not questioning certain prescriptions. Of course, this has resulted in increased scrutiny towards these prescriptions, even if medically necessary.

This has led to tension between the doctors and pharmacies. The AMA (American Medical Association) has warned pharmacies about refusing to fill prescriptions. Major pharmacies such as Walmart and others have pointed out that they have a duty to exercise care. Said a CVS spokesman “As health care providers on the front lines of health care delivery, our pharmacists use their professional judgment and consider a variety of factors when determining whether a prescription for a controlled substance was issued for a legitimate purpose, which is part of their professional responsibility under state and federal law”.

WHile the two groups are arguing, it is the patients that are paying the price. There are horror stories about people with legitimate prescriptions that are being refused service. Stores are using various excuses, such as claiming doctor shopping or that an injured patient lives too far away from the pharmacy.

Now even a Doctor that helped Pinellas County draft an ordinance reducing pill mills thinks things have gotten out of hand. Watching some of her patients who suffer from cancer or severe spinal conditions bounce from pharmacy to pharmacy without success.

“It’s crazy,” said Dr. Lynne Columbus, the Clearwater doctor who drafted the ordinance. “It’s gone way too far to the other side.”

Still pharmacies may not be backing down. After Walgreens was hit with an 80 million dollar fine from the DEA for letting oxycodone hit the black market, other pharmacies became even stricter. After a few CVS pharmacies in Florida had their license revoked, many stores stopped carrying controlled substances or kept them in limited amounts.

Now many innocent patients are suffering in pain and unable to get relief.

According to local pharmacist Larry Golbolm, in Florida, pharmacists do not need to justify refusing to fill a prescription. “Pharmacists did not go to school for at least six years to be drug dealers for the highly suspect ‘profession’ called ‘pain management,’ ” he said. “The ruse on pain management is fully understood by the majority of pharmacists, especially at the chain establishments.”

This “war” between reducing prescription pill addiction and helping legitimate patients has produced a few casualties, including a Pinellas woman who committed suicide rather then face her pain after she was unable to get her prescriptions filled.

In another example a late-stage lung cancer patient elected to enter a hospice instead after she was unable to get her prescription filled.

Per Trinity Pain Center owner Christopher Wittmann “If she underwent chemotherapy, she may actually have been able to extend her life by a year, but the option of having a year and being in miserable pain or living two to three months but having her pain controlled was her choice, because there was no guarantee that we could control her pain.”

Another unintended consequence of this crackdown is legitimate patients afraid to talk about their medicine and medical condition as they fear looking like drug addicts. Many patients feel defensive even talking about it.

Is there an answer? Unfortunately corporations, like people, respond to consequences. If a company runs the risk of a large fine or even being shut down, they tend to err on the side of caution. This results in many innocent people being put through unnecessary pain and suffering because they cannot get their prescription pills. Now, many of the same doctors who championed stiffer laws to control these substances are surprised that pharmacies are hesitant to fill their prescriptions. Until Pinellas County finds a “third way” between public safety and patient’s rights, we will continue to see both prescription pill abuse and innocents suffering.
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