The Prosecutor in My Florida Criminal Trial Misstated the Law to the Jury. What Can Be Done About That?

798516-drug-offensesThere are several things that can happen in your drug crime trial that can make the process unfairly tilted against you. Things like a prosecutor’s misstatement of the law in closing arguments may confuse and/or prejudice the jury, thus entitling you to a reversal if you’re eventually convicted. However, it is possible that you could lose your opportunity to make that winning appeals argument if you don’t make the right objections during your trial. In other words, at every step during your criminal trial process, it is essential to know what to do and when. That is one of the many areas where it is invaluable to have a skilled Tampa Bay drug crime defense attorney on your side.

J.L.A.’s case is an example of an appeal that succeeded, in part, due to correct actions that were taken at trial. J.L.A. was on trial for drug trafficking. According to J.L.A., he was riding with his long-time friend, Malcolm, when a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy pulled the pair over in a traffic stop. Malcolm allegedly handed his friend a bottle and said, “Tuck this.” J.L.A. testified that, as he hid the bottle, he though it contained marijuana.

The bottle did not contain marijuana. It contained more than 200 pills, including hydromorphone, oxycodone, and alprazolam. The deputy found the bottle and the pills after conducting a pat-down search.

At trial, the state charged J.L.A. with trafficking in hydromorphone, trafficking in oxycodone, and possession of alprazolam. It is important to notice the specifics of those charges. Each of those trafficking charges carried with it a minimum prison sentence of seven years and a $100,000 fine, so he was facing serious time and major fines.

For J.L.A. to be guilty of the hydromorphone charge, the state had to prove that J.L.A. “knowingly possessed a certain substance” that was “hydromorphone or a mixture containing hydromorphone” and that the drugs weighed 14 grams or more. Florida law also says that a lack of knowledge of “the illicit nature of a controlled substance” is a valid defense against this trafficking crime.

In the state’s closing argument, though, the prosecutor specifically told the jury that the state was not required to prove that the accused man knew what was in the bottle. The prosecutor told the jury they should find the man guilty if they were convinced that the accused man “knowingly possessed a certain substance,” the substance turned out to be hydromorphone and that the drugs weighed 14 grams or more.

J.L.A.’s lawyer objected to the argument. Unfortunately (in the short term,) the trial judge denied the objection and the jury found J.L.A. guilty. J.L.A., however, appealed and won a reversal of his conviction. Florida law clearly says that “knowledge of the illicit nature of the controlled substance requires knowledge of the specific substance that was charged.” So, if the state didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the bottle contained hydromorphone, then J.L.A. couldn’t be found guilty of trafficking in hydromorphone.

Taking all the small steps needed to arrive at the desired destination

A key part of J.L.A.’s eventual success was that, after the prosecutor gave his erroneous closing argument, the defense lawyer objected. The trial judge ruled against the defense, but that objection was still a vital part of J.L.A.’s later success. That’s because, with most trial errors, you can only win an appeal if you objected during the trial. Even if the trial judge rules against you, you have to make the objection. If the prosecution makes a mistake and you don’t object at the right time, you can only get a favorable ruling from the appeals court if you can demonstrate that the mistake was something that the law defines to be a “fundamental error.” Otherwise, your appeal will fail and your conviction will stand.

In other words, there are many steps that go into a successful defense. Some of them are obvious and some very much not, but they’re all important. That’s why you need a knowledgeable attorney representing you. For that kind of skillful defense advocacy, rely on the experienced Tampa Bay drug crime defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. Our attorneys have been helping people accused of crimes in Florida for many years to protect their rights. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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