Drug Trafficking Defense Lawyer
in Fort Myers
Our expert defense attorney can help you fight this serious charge
Florida’s geography positions the state as a key hub for drug trafficking rings. Located in close proximity to drug-producing and transient countries, the Sunshine State’s well-developed transportation infrastructure enables drug traffickers to move drugs to major cities throughout the country more efficiently. The heavy presence of the illegal drug trade has led local and federal law enforcement to focus on Fort Myers with increased scrutiny when it comes to curbing drug trafficking. Individuals who find themselves facing a state or federal drug charge generally have better outcomes when they contact a Fort Myers drug trafficking attorney.
Why drug traffickers choose Florida
Florida’s extensive coastline places the state in second place behind California on the list of states with the longest shoreline. Because the state is a peninsula, Florida’s coastlines are located along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, the state’s 14 deep-water ports are strategically positioned along both coasts with ports along the Gulf of Mexico primarily processing domestic cargo and ports along the Atlantic processing international cargo. Miami processes more cargo than any other port in the state while Tampa, which specializes in bulk cargo, processes the greatest amount of cargo in terms of weight. Tampa also handles approximately half of the seaborne cargo that passes through the state. Because of Fort Myers’ proximity to Tampa, drugs are prevalent in our city.
Groups of drug traffickers smuggle drugs from the origin and transient countries to Florida by transporting the drugs in containerized maritime cargo vessels, coastal freighters and speedboats. Traffickers also sometimes use other types of vessels like fishing boats, bulk freighters and even cruise ships. Sometimes the drugs are intermingled with legitimate cargo like fruits and vegetables, coffee, seafood, and household goods. In other cases, a criminal organization may conceal the drugs behind wall panels within the vessels or cargo containers or within false compartments and vessel fuel tanks. Miami, Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, and Tampa are Florida’s major cruise ports. Most cruise ships travel from Florida to destinations in the Caribbean, which is a major transshipment area for cocaine and heroin from South American countries. Law enforcement officials report some cruise ship passengers and crew members have been known to traffick illegal drugs by concealing the drugs on their person or in their luggage.
Other ways traffickers transport drugs into Florida
Beyond Florida’s vast maritime infrastructure, the state also has 131 public airports, 13 of which are international airports. The state also has more than 700 private airports, airstrips, heliports, and seaplane bases. Half of all scheduled departing flights travel to destinations in the Caribbean. Thirty percent of departing flights travel to South America, Central America, and Mexico. The remaining departing flights travel mostly to destinations in Canada and Europe. Cocaine, MDMA, and heroin are transported to Florida’s airports from international destinations and from other states. Drugs that arrive at the state’s airports are most often transported by couriers, or the drugs are intermingled with legitimate cargo. Drug traffickers also utilize small, unmonitored airstrips located on ranches and in fly-in communities. Private planes are sometimes used to airdrop drugs onto vessels while they are at sea.
Criminal organizations occasionally use the rail system to traffick drugs into and out of Florida. Amtrak operates daily passenger train service between Miami and New York. Many of the 11 railroads that operate in the state are based at major seaports.
How traffickers transport drugs across state lines
Drug trafficking rings in Florida transport their illicit cargo throughout the state’s maze of strategic roads and highways. Specifically, Interstates 4, 10, 75, 95, and the Florida Turnpike are the roads used most often to transport drugs from Florida to other parts of the country. Interstate 10 runs westward from Los Angeles through the Gulf Coast states and then from Pensacola to Jacksonville once it crosses into Florida. In Jacksonville, I-10 intersects with Interstate 75, which runs from Miami through Atlanta–another major international transportation hub– and into Knoxville, Cincinnati, and Detroit. Interstate 95 begins in Miami and is the principal north-south interstate highway that runs the entire length of the East Coast to the U.S.-Canadian border. Criminal organizations traffick drugs along Florida’s highways in both private and commercial vehicles. They conceal the drugs in built-in compartments or within shipments of legitimate goods.
Most common street drugs smuggled into Fort Myers
Most Fort Myers drug trafficking cases involve cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or prescription painkillers. Other drugs law enforcement agencies frequently encounter here and throughout Florida include:
- other prescription drugs
Whether an individual is charged with trafficking, possessing or selling illegal drugs, the consequences can easily include a prison sentence and large fines. Federal criminal defense attorney David J. Joffe is available to help people who have been accused of a drug-related crime in Fort Myers and throughout Florida.
How MDMA is trafficked into Fort Myers
MDMA, often known as ecstasy, is a designer drug that is widely distributed in most major cities and university towns in Florida. Most MDMA that arrives in Florida is manufactured in the Netherlands or Belgium, though some is produced locally. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, crime rings that traffick MDMA in Florida are most often of Western European, Caribbean, Colombian, or Caucasian American descent. Israeli, Russian, and Colombian groups are most often the wholesale distributors of MDMA. Israeli and Russian organizations are also the predominant transporters who bring the drug into Florida.
Don't say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with a federal defense lawyer.
How Flakka is trafficked into Florida
Similar to MDMA, Flakka is also a designer synthetic drug that has become increasingly popular in Florida. The stimulant drug is widely advertised by Chinese companies for shipment to the U.S. Most shipments enter through Florida with some remaining local while traffickers transport quantities to larger cities in other states. Flakka was officially added to the U.S. list of illegal controlled substances in 2014.
How methamphetamine is trafficked
Methamphetamine use was originally more widespread in rural areas until the drug became more common in major cities. Polk County was once the primary area in which people abused the drug. Over time, the availability of methamphetamine and abuse spread throughout Central Florida to other parts of the state. Although much of the meth purchased and sold in Florida is produced locally, large laboratories in California, Mexico, and southwestern states also produce significant quantities that are trafficked into the state.
Prescription drug trafficking
For more than a decade, Florida has earned its notorious designation as the epicenter of America’s prescription drug problem. As medical providers and pharmacies follow stricter guidelines in prescribing certain drugs, traffickers and people who have prescription drug addictions must work harder to obtain opioids and other commonly-abused medications in larger quantities. Prescription drugs that are often the subject of Florida drug trafficking cases include:
Doctor shopping is a method of procurement that drug traffickers and others adopt as a means of obtaining more of a prescription drug a single doctor can legally prescribe. Individuals will visit multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions, which are later filled with the intent of selling the drugs or keeping them for illicit personal use. Florida’s “pill mills” became famous among those who were looking to obtain larger quantities of restricted prescription drugs. “Pill mills” were medical practices and clinics that readily prescribed painkillers to virtually anyone who paid the office a visit. In response to a growing opioid crisis, Florida law enforcement agencies targeted doctor shoppers and pill mills.
Traffickers also obtain prescription drugs through other means, including theft. Members of criminal organizations may steal or otherwise illegally obtain prescription pads, break into pharmacies, or work with people who are employed at hospitals and pharmacies to obtain prescription drugs.
Drug trafficking vs. other drug offenses
Florida law identifies several drug-related criminal offenses. People are often unsure of what constitutes drug trafficking. Florida law defines drug trafficking as the intentional sale, manufacture, purchase, possession, delivery, or transportation of statutorily-specified amounts of narcotics into the state. The minimum amount to trigger a trafficking charge varies depending on the substance.
Drug sale or delivery charge
It is illegal to sell or deliver a controlled substance in Florida. The difference between a drug sale or delivery charge and a drug trafficking charge is typically based on quantity. A sale or delivery charge is generally not as severe as a trafficking charge. However, because the two charges are very similar, law enforcement officials may charge a defendant with trafficking even though the individual’s behavior may call for a lesser charge.
Drug possession charge
A simple possession charge is less severe than a trafficking or drug sale charge. Nevertheless, possession of any of the most common drugs other than marijuana is a felony in Florida. People who are facing one or more drug charges in Fort Myers should always contact a federal defense lawyer for a better understanding of the differences between Florida drug offenses.
Marijuana trafficking case
Florida law prohibits the trafficking of cannabis or marijuana. An individual can be charged with trafficking marijuana if he or she transports a minimum of 25 lbs or 300 cannabis plants. Under Florida’s Grow House Eradication Act, people who own or possess places that are used to traffick cannabis into Florida may also face trafficking charges. The act allows Florida courts to presume the intent to sell or distribute if the place, trailer, or structure contains 25 lbs or more cannabis plants without regard to the growth stage of the plants.
Penalties for marijuana trafficking
Penalties for marijuana trafficking vary based on the amount of cannabis had at the time of the incident. Trafficking marijuana is a first-degree felony with a maximum prison sentence of up to 30 years. Depending on the amount of marijuana, mandatory minimum sentences may apply. Florida’s mandatory minimums for marijuana trafficking are:
- a three-year prison sentence and a $25,000 for at least 25 but less than 2000 lbs
- a seven-year prison sentence and a $50,000 fine for at least 2,000 grams but less than 10,000 lbs
- a 15-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for amounts greater than 10,000 lbs
Cocaine trafficking in Florida
According to Florida law, an individual can be sentenced for cocaine trafficking if he or she transports a minimum of 28 grams of the substance into the state. Individuals who are convicted of trafficking cocaine may also have their Florida driver’s license suspended for six months. Licensed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and tradesmen who are convicted may also have their professional licenses suspended. Mandatory minimum sentencing applies to cocaine trafficking. Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines call for the sentencing as follows:
- a three-year prison sentence and $50,000 fine for at least 28 grams, but less than 200 grams
- a seven-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine for at least 200, but less than 400 grams
- Aa 15-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for amounts at least 400 grams, but less than 1.5 kilograms
Opiate drugs vs opioid drugs under Florida law
The terms “opiate” and “opioid” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a scientific difference between the two terms. Opiate drugs are derived from a natural source. Codeine, morphine, and heroin are examples. The term “opioid” refers to all-natural, semi-synthetic, and fully synthetic chemicals that interact with the body’s opioid receptors to reduce the intensity of pain signals in the body. Nevertheless, Florida law treats all opioid drugs similarly. Examples of opioid drugs include:
Opioid trafficking charge in Fort Myers
An individual may be convicted for trafficking opioids if he or she transports a minimum of four grams of an opioid substance into the state. Opioid trafficking is a first-degree felony with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years per charge. Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for heroin are:
- a three-year mandatory minimum sentence in prison and a $50,000 fine for 4 grams but less than 14 grams
- a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence and a $100,000 fine for at least 14, but less than 28 grams
- a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence and a $500,000 fine for at least 28 grams but less than 30 kilograms
Florida’s new Fentanyl law
A synthetic opioid that is 50 times as powerful as morphine, fentanyl is most often prescribed to patients for very short periods of time. When legally prescribed by a medical professional, the drug is most often in the form of an injection, transdermal patch, or lozenge. Nevertheless, drug rings illegally manufacture the substance in clandestine labs to produce quantities for street sales. Illegal fentanyl is produced in the form of a powder, tablet, or dropped onto blotter paper. The drug is sometimes mixed with heroin prior to sale, and tablets can be passed off as other opioid drugs. As a result, drug users may consume a substance that is much more potent than the drug they intend to consume. This places the user at a greater risk of overdose. In recent years, Florida has reported a surge in deaths caused by fentanyl overdose.
In 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 95, which increases the mandatory minimum sentence for selling and trafficking fentanyl. Unlike other opioids, which have a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, fentanyl now has a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for trafficking at least 4, but less than 14 grams. Individuals who are convicted of trafficking a minimum of 14, but less than 28 grams of fentanyl can now be sentenced to a minimum of 15 up to 20 years in prison.
Methamphetamine drug offenses
Methamphetamine is a drug that carries enhanced penalties under certain circumstances. Individuals who manufacture meth in a place where a minor under age 16 is present may be convicted of a first-degree felony and sentenced to up to 30 years in state prison. If a minor under 16 suffers severe harm as a result of an adult manufacturing meth in a place where the minor is present, may be automatically sentenced to 30 years in prison and convicted of a first-degree felony.
Even in cases that do not involve aggravating circumstances, Florida law applies mandatory minimum sentencing to meth trafficking cases. Courts generally apply the following mandatory minimum sentences in cases in which defendants are convicted of trafficking methamphetamine:
- a minimum state prison sentence of three years and a fine of $50,000 for 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams
- a minimum prison sentence of seven years and a fine of $100,000 for a minimum of 28 grams, but less than 200 grams
- a minimum prison sentence of 15 years and a fine of $250,000 for 200 grams or more
Trafficking MDMA in Florida
When filing trafficking charges against an individual, prosecutors in Florida do not file charges based on the weight of the illegal substance in a mixture. Instead, they consider the total weight of the mixture that contains the drug. Therefore, in cases involving ecstasy pills, a defendant can be convicted based on the weight of the pills in their entirety even though MDMA may be one small component in each pill.
Sentencing for MDMA trafficking
Florida law sets forth mandatory minimum sentencing for MDMA or ecstasy. State mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines call for individuals who are convicted of trafficking in MDMA to be sentenced to at least three years in state prison and ordered to pay a fine of $50,000 for 10 grams up to less than 200 grams. The mandatory minimum sentence increases to seven years in prison and a $100,000 fine for trafficking at least 200 grams, but less than 400 grams. For 400 grams or more, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines call for 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Conspiracy to traffic drugs in Florida
An individual may be charged with a very serious offense even if merely looks as if he or she will engage in drug trafficking. Conspiracy to traffick drugs is defined as agreeing, conspiring, combining, or confederating with another person to engage in drug trafficking. Prosecutors must prove the following to obtain a conviction in a conspiracy to traffic case:
- the defendant intended to commit the crime of drug trafficking
- the defendant agreed, combined, or confederated with someone else to cause either person or someone else to engage in drug trafficking
Conspiracy requires the presence of at least one other person. Other states require proof that the defendant acted in pursuit of actually engaging in trafficking. In Florida, prosecutors are only required to prove the defendant made an agreement with at least one other person to traffick drugs.
Federal drug trafficking laws
Not only is drug trafficking prohibited by Florida law, but trafficking drugs also violates federal law. It is possible for an individual to face federal and state trafficking charges that arise out of the same event. Federal drug trafficking charges generally carry longer minimum prison sentences and larger fines if convicted. Instead of being sentenced to state prison, defendants may be sent to federal prison for several years or longer. Federal drug crimes are not prosecuted in the state. Instead, defendants face highly-experienced federal prosecutors who work with federal agencies and are typically among the top attorneys in their field. No defendant should ever face a federal drug charge without carefully choosing a seasoned, knowledgeable Fort Myers drug trafficking defense attorney to provide legal counsel and representation.
Armed drug trafficking
Drug traffickers may be subjected to increased penalties if they are in possession of a weapon while engaging in trafficking. Prosecutors must prove a defendant carried, displayed, used, threatened to use, or tried to use a firearm while trafficking a drug. Florida law permits local courts to apply the minimum mandatory sentence for the drug trafficked and to enhance the penalty based on the involvement of a firearm in the offense.
Beating a drug trafficking charge
There are several standard defenses Fort Myers drug trafficking attorneys utilize in defending clients against drug trafficking charges. Pretrial defenses dispute the constitutionality of the manner in which law enforcement officers behaved prior to arresting the defendant and in the process of making the arrest. A Fort Myers criminal defense attorney can file a “motion to suppress,” through which the attorney asks the court to review the officers’ conduct. If the police conducted an illegal search or illegally seized the defendant’s property to obtain evidence, the court may disallow or “suppress” the admission of the evidence based on the unconstitutional conduct exhibited by law enforcement.
An attorney may also challenge the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the state. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant engaged in trafficking. While it may be more difficult to challenge drug quantities or whether the drug was transported into Florida, state law requires an element of intent. Therefore, a defense attorney may seek to capitalize on any holes or inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case that may indicate the defendant lacked the intent to engage in trafficking.
In some cases in Fort Myers, a drug trafficking defense lawyer may be able to challenge whether the defendant was in possession of an illegal substance. This defense is more commonly raised in situations in which law enforcement seized drugs from a vehicle with multiple occupants or a shared space such as a shared home or a warehouse or a commercial space or commercial vehicle to which multiple people have access.
Experienced drug trafficking attorneys in Fort Myers have several other defenses they can potentially raise depending on the facts of each individual case. It is always best to talk to an attorney to learn more about possible defenses and the available legal options.
Defending the rights of the accused
The U.S. Constitution recognized that people who are accused of criminal offenses have certain rights. For this reason, we recommend contacting a Fort Myers criminal defense attorney the moment you realize you may be in legal trouble. An attorney can protect you by ensuring you receive fair treatment from law enforcement officers. Interactions during the investigative stage of a criminal case can have a lasting impact on the ultimate outcome. Having a trusted attorney on your side means knowing you have an advocate who will advise you in your decision-making and stand up for you in the interest of helping you avoid injustice.
When to contact a Fort Myers drug trafficking lawyer
There is no such thing as contacting a defense attorney too early. Whether called into a law enforcement office for questioning, placed under investigation or formally charged, an attorney can help at every stage. Your federal defense attorney can protect your interests by representing and advising you in all interactions with law enforcement. People who choose to speak to law enforcement without the presence of a lawyer are at a greater risk of making incriminating statements or even being coerced into implicating themselves in a crime they did not commit. An attorney can also help defendants prior to going to trial and even after conviction and sentencing. When it comes to a serious crime like drug trafficking, the stakes are too high to face state and federal prosecutors without the support, guidance and representation of an expert Fort Myers drug trafficking defense attorney.
Contact us, and receive a free case evaluation. Our compassionate team will gather the facts of your case and provide you with the information you need to better understand your legal options. Call us today, and let our dedicated drug trafficking lawyer in Fort Myers fight for your rights and defend your freedom.