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South Beach Drug Trafficking Lawyer

Expert federal drug defense attorneys for tough criminal charges

Drug trafficking is one of the most severely penalized offenses under federal and state law. South Florida is a major hub for drug organizations that operate between Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. If you are facing a drug trafficking charge, you need an expert federal defense lawyer in South Beach who can successfully defend you in federal court. Not only are the stakes higher in federal drug trafficking cases, but federal judges and prosecutors are top-tier legal professionals. When your freedom’s on the line, call South Beach drug trafficking attorney David Joffe, and count on his 35 years of experience successfully representing defendants in federal drug cases.

The illegal drug trade in South Florida

South Florida attracts people from all levels in the illegal drug trade. For organizations that produce and transport drugs from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, importing drugs into the U.S. is a matter of making a short trip to Miami. The city’s coastal location allows drug smugglers to transport illegal drugs into the country by boat. Drug organizations use Miami’s robust immigrant communities to recruit people who help move drugs and drug money across international borders. Florida’s transportation infrastructure is advantageous for moving drugs to other states along the East Coast. All of these factors combine to make South Florida a haven for drug trafficking. A significant portion of the drugs organizations move into Miami are purchased and sold in South Beach.

Drug trafficking as a federal and state offense

Depending on the facts of the case, individuals who are accused of drug trafficking may be charged in federal and state court. A drug trafficking case is a federal matter if:

  • the activity involves activity in two or more states
  • the activity took place on federal land
  • the activity involved a federal agency
  • the activity involved a federal official

Compared to state drug charges, federal charges have more severe sentences. State and federal drug trafficking offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines require judges to sentence convicted defendants to prison for a minimum number of years.

Drug trafficking under Florida law

Florida’s drug trafficking law does not require prosecutors to prove the defendant was in the process of selling or distributing an illegal drug. The presence of a minimum threshold quantity of a drug is sufficient for the court to presume the intent to traffick the drug. Different controlled substances have different minimum quantities to support a trafficking charge. Similar to the federal government’s drug trafficking law, Florida’s drug law categorizes controlled substances into a schedule. Each drug’s classification depends on factors such as the drug’s potential for abuse, the risk of addiction, and known uses for the drug for medical purposes. The minimum threshold quantity in the state’s trafficking statute is based on the drug’s assigned category in the schedule of controlled substances. State prosecutors may also prove drug trafficking by establishing that the defendant imported illegal drugs of any quantity into Florida from outside of the state.

Armed drug trafficking

Florida prosecutors may enhance a drug trafficking charge if the defendant was in possession of a weapon at the time of the offense. The state’s armed drug trafficking statute is subjective in the sense that the law does not list items that qualify as a weapon. Drug trafficking is a first degree felony in Florida with a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Armed drug trafficking is punishable by life in prison.

Drug possession

Drug possession and drug trafficking are two different offenses that are very closely related. Possession is a standalone offense, and it is also an element in the more severely penalized offenses like drug trafficking. People who are charged with drug trafficking may also be charged with possession. If the prosecution is unable to prove all of the elements of a trafficking charge, the defendant may still be convicted for possession if the prosecution is able to prove the elements of a drug possession offense.

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Drug distribution vs. drug trafficking in South Beach

It’s very easy to confuse drug trafficking with drug distribution. Drug trafficking is based on the idea that traffickers supply drug dealers. As a result, drug traffickers are more likely to possess large quantities of illegal drugs. In contrast, a drug distribution charge is based on the movement of an illegal drug whether it is being sold or otherwise distributed to someone else. A trafficking charge is based on the amount of a drug the defendant possesses. Distribution is based on evidence that suggests the defendant was selling or delivering an illegal drug without regard to the amount of an illegal drug the defendant possessed. Evidence that suggests drug distribution includes:

  • a scale
  • small plastic bags used to package drugs
  • large quantities of cash
  • drug paraphernalia
  • weapons

The court may convict a defendant who is observed to be in the process of distributing or making plans to distribute drugs. The presence of items that suggest the defendant is involved in distributing illegal drugs may also be sufficient evidence for a jury to convict the defendant. Drug distribution cases are often more subjective than drug trafficking cases that may be proven based on quantity. Defense attorneys may challenge the defendant’s reason for possessing certain items that may be interpreted as equipment one would use for distributing drugs.

Drug manufacturing and cultivation in South Beach

Florida’s drug laws severely penalize individuals who engage in drug manufacturing or drug cultivation. An individual may be charged with drug manufacturing if he or she creates, cultivates, or processes a controlled substance in an amount that is greater than one would consume for personal use. The penalties for drug manufacturing increase based on the quantity of drugs the case involves. At minimum, drug manufacturing is a third degree felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In cases that involve large quantities or other aggravating factors, the defendant may be sentenced to decades in prison.

Florida law also targets individuals who own, rent, or have control of a property for the purpose of drug manufacturing. Knowingly maintaining a property for drug manufacturing is a third degree felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If an individual actively or constructively maintains a property for drug manufacturing with the intent to sell or distribute drugs, the individual may be charged with a second degree felony with a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If there is a minor present at the property, the penalty increases to a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Under Florida’s drug manufacturing laws, a property owner may be charged for drug manufacturing if an investigating law enforcement agency believes the landlord had reason to know his or her tenant has been engaging in drug manufacturing activity. Other people who may be affected by the law include family members who share a residence with a relative who manufactures drugs without the family’s knowledge, and people who have roommates who secretly manufacture or cultivate drugs. Drug manufacturing doesn’t always involve the strong smell of chemicals. An individual may be charged with drug cultivation under the state’s manufacturing law if there are 25 or more cannabis plants on the property.

Florida’s drug manufacturing and cultivation laws have the potential to affect people who are involved in the manufacturing, processing, or cultivation of drugs and other people who have rights to the property. Contact a South Beach drug trafficking lawyer if you are facing a charge for drug manufacturing.

Drug trafficking in South Beach drug-free zones

State law allows Florida courts to enhance sentencing in cases that involve drug crimes in drug-free zones. According to Florida law, a defendant may be sentenced more severely if he or she commits a drug crime within 1,000 feet of:

  • a primary school
  • a university
  • a house of worship
  • a community center
  • a daycare
  • an assisted living facility
  • a 24-hour convenience store
  • a gas station convenience store that sells groceries

Certain types of properties are only drug-free zones during certain hours. For example, schools in Florida are drug-free zones from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight. Individuals who engage in illegal drug crimes during the drug-free zone hours may be subjected to an enhanced sentence if convicted. Drug offenses that may otherwise be misdemeanor or third degree felony offenses may automatically be escalated to a first degree felony if the offense occurred in a drug-free zone.

Prescription drug crimes in South Beach

When people think of illegal drugs in Florida, they are more likely to imagine cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy, and marijuana. However, prescription drugs can land Florida residents and visitors in prison as easily as “street” drugs. Florida was once known for its “pill mills,” pain management clinics that readily prescribed prescription drugs with minimal regulation. Years ago, people who were looking for drugs to sell or to supply their own addiction could refill their supply without having a valid prescription. Interstate 75 became known as the “Oxy Express” in reference to the highly addictive prescription drug oxycontin.

In response to the state’s rampant illegal prescription drug activity, Florida’s legislature enacted some of the toughest prescription drug laws in the country. Today, it is illegal to possess a prescription drug without also having a valid prescription for the drug. Florida law also prohibits the possession of a prescription drug in a quantity higher than prescribed. Illegally possessing a prescription drug in Florida is a third degree felony. However, first-time offenders are more likely to receive a lighter sentence. If an individual illegally possesses an unusually large quantity of a prescription drug, he or she may be charged with the more severe offense of possession with the intent to distribute. Some exceptions to Florida’s strict prescription drug possession law are:

  • medical workers who are authorized to carry prescription drugs
  • pharmacists
  • pharmaceutical sales representatives
  • law enforcement officers who are transporting drugs seized as evidence

‘DOCTOR SHOPPING’ IN SOUTH BEACH

Although the laws have changed in Florida, the illegal prescription drug trade continues. Instead of visiting pill mills, people who are looking for excessive quantities of prescription drugs employ other means. Doctor shopping is a strategy people use to obtain multiple prescriptions for highly regulated drugs. An individual who engages in doctor shopping will visit doctors in multiple locations and, if necessary, use fake names. Each time the individual visits another doctor, he or she will conceal the fact that he or she has previously received a prescription for the same drug.

PRESCRIPTION PAD THEFT

Another way of obtaining access to prescription drugs is by stealing the prescription pad itself. In most cases, prescription pads are stolen by people who work in healthcare settings. Sometimes, prescription pads may be taken if a break-in occurs at a medical office. Forging prescriptions is a form of prescription fraud.

Similarly, some people try to obtain prescription drugs for illegal purposes by calling a pharmacist and pretending to be a healthcare professional who is authorized to call in a prescription. Instead of providing a medical office as the callback number, the individual provides his or her own phone number.

ALTERING AN EXISTING PRESCRIPTION

In some cases, an individual who wants a larger quantity of a drug than legitimately prescribed may alter a legally valid prescription. For example, someone who legally receives a prescription drug for pain may have an addiction or want extra pills to sell. Physically changing the date on an expired prescription of the quantity prescribed is also prescription fraud.

Contacting a lawyer for a drug trafficking charge in South Beach

A drug trafficking charge in Florida can change your life. Fortunately, there are ways defense attorneys can challenge the serious allegations you may be facing. Contact Joffe Law to receive a case evaluation.

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