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An arrest or investigation for the possession or sale of drugs and paraphernalia can have a devastating and long lasting impact on your life. Drug enforcement laws in the State of Florida have grown strict and fall under the jurisdiction of both Federal and State Courts. These types of cases may be investigated by various law enforcement agencies and also by Federal agencies that many people would not consider “traditional” drug enforcers. Regardless of who it is that bring a drug charge, these cases must be taken seriously. As a former prosecutor and now defense attorney, my twenty years of handling these cases has taught me that these cases must not be taken lightly.

Although I do not intend this writing to be an “encyclopedia” of drug possession law, I have decided to break this article into smaller chunks that can be more easily swallowed because of the sheer volume of information. This area of law usually falls into a few categories and I intend to follow up this introductory writing with several follow up pieces. There are areas of the law that are very important that I may not touch on, but I believe that the areas that impact people the most needed to be addressed. I am also going to confine my remarks to State law because that is what impacts most people.

I intend to touch on the areas of Consequences/Penalties, The Definitions of Possession and Trafficking, Search/Seizure and Talking to Police Officers, and Alternatives in Sentencing, but we’ll see.

The first area I decided to tackle in article One is Consequences and Penalties in Drug cases. I chose this because this is where the rubber hits the road so to speak. The first questions I am typically asked during a consultation after an arrest or investigation center around “How much trouble am I in?” and “What can I expect?” Penalties in State Court in Florida can vary widely and can consist of any combination of jail and/or prison time, probation and fines. There are also various less known consequences of drug charges which include things like suspension of a person’s driver’s license, the inability of a student to obtain federal financial aid to attend school, civil forfeiture proceedings where law enforcement can seize and dispose of a person’s personal property to include vehicles, boats and cash etc. A drug conviction can also either prevent or cause serious complications in being licensed or insured in a number of fields to include nursing/healthcare fields, education, military, legal services, government employment, and construction. A drug conviction may also impact your ability to receive financial assistance such as government assisted public housing.


Prison / Jail

Any misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana or any Possession of Paraphernalia is considered a First Degree Misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in the county jail, twelve months probation and a $1000.00 fine.

Most controlled substances in the State of Florida are listed on what is referred to as The Schedule. This schedule is set out in Florida Statute § 893.03. ( ) This “schedule” was developed with the thought of ranking the severity of punishment by taking into account both the likelihood of abuse (addiction) and the amount or weight of the substance possessed.  The possible punishments will also escalate if any controlled substance is sold, transferred or possessed with the intent to sell such substance. The Florida Statutes also establish enhanced punishments if controlled substances are delivered to minors, if the substances are brought into the state, of if the controlled substances are possessed or sold in sufficient amounts to qualify as Trafficking in a Controlled Substance. Trafficking sentences will vary by controlled substance and by amount, but suffice it to say these sentences will be mandatory, will include mandatory prison sentences and huge fines that can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars! Enhancements for the sale and possession of controlled substances in the vicinity of certain enumerated facilities can also increase the potential punishments involved in a drug case. These “facilities” can include places such as schools, day-care centers, churches and convenience stores to name a few.

Driver’s License Suspensions

A conviction for a drug related charge can result in a two year driver’s license suspension. Although Possession of Drug Paraphernalia can carry the potential for similar punishment as possession charges, it does not result in a license suspension. The State of Florida has given judges the authority to withhold adjudication on certain of these drug charges which means that a formal conviction or “finding” of guilt is not imposed. This can be vitally important because a driver’s license suspension will not result. A person convicted may qualify for a restricted or work permit.

Civil Forfeiture Proceedings

To add insult to injury, the “seizing agency” can many times bring a civil action to ask the Court to order the forfeiture of any personal property used or attempted to be used in the commission of a felony or property that was obtained using the proceeds from the commission of a felony. Although more complicated than this, this forfeiture proceeding can result in the loss of cars, cash, homes, boats, airplanes etc. resulting in great personal loss to a defendant or a family member.

Each individual case requires the careful consideration of all potential impacts. Drug convictions can have great and unanticipated consequences which can place a heavy burden on a defendant as well as their family.

Federal Student Financial Aid

Convictions for Sale or Possession of drugs can impact a person’s ability to receive federal financial aid if the conviction took place while receiving financial aid. FAFSA question 23 specifically asks about drug convictions and an affirmative answer will in a prompt to complete the worksheet. (see link attached ) A loss of financial aid can cost a student thousands of dollars and can result in an interruption of their schooling. This is a consequence that must be considered and cannot be taken lightly.

This writing is meant to be an overview of some of the potential consequences that may be associated with drug charges. This article is meant to raise questions and to create awareness, NOT to provide legal advice. Please contact a qualified attorney to discuss the particulars of your situation.


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