Finding the Best Possible Results After a Clearwater, Florida Drug Arrest

It’s unfortunate but true that America has declared a unilateral drug war against its own citizens. The power of the state could have been used to promote awareness of the risks of various drugs and to help those addicted beat their habits. Instead otherwise law-abiding citizens are branded as criminals. Many are arrested on the flimsiest of excuses as law enforcement officers become liars in an effort to lock up as many people as possible.

Avoid the Pinellas Jail

Avoid the Pinellas Jail

Once arrested those suspected of having even small quantities of drugs often face significant prison sentences in federal and state courts in Florida. For example, it only takes being in possession of a handful of oxycodone, vicodin or other otherwise legal prescription pills to create a situation where a judge has no discretion to go under the federal or Florida minimum mandatory sentencing requirements. Even when a minimum mandatory sentence does not apply the strict standards of the sentencing guidelines may require a judge to give prison time even for a first time offender. Clearly the strict drug laws must be changed as soon as possible. The laws should focus on rehabilitation not punishment and on helping people not hurting them. More peoples lives have been destroyed by the strict enforcement of American drug laws than have been harmed by the illegal drugs themselves. But until federal and Florida drug laws are amended Clearwater criminal defense lawyers must find the best possible ways to minimize the terrible damage done to countless lives after a drug arrest. Here are the most important and effective things to do if you or someone you love has been arrested for a drug charge in Tampa Bay, Florida:

  1. Do whatever is necessary to get out of the Pinellas Jail which is well known for having poor food, unsafe conditions and providing poor medical care. Contact a bail bondsman if you don’t have the entire bail amount. Typically by paying ten percent of the entire bond to the bondsman which you forfeit as his fee, the bondsman pays the remaining 90% thus insuring that you don’t have to wait for months in jail while the case is being resolved. If the bond is still too high then a lawyer can file a motion with the judge to lower the bond by establishing that you are not a flight risk and that you have strong ties to the community.
  2. As soon as possible contact a reliable defense lawyer who is committed to helping you find the best results. Make sure the lawyer has prior criminal law experience and that criminal law is his one field of practice rather than finding a general practitioner or someone who also does civil law.
  3. Help your lawyer help you by providing any evidence you may have such as phone records, bank records, video or audio. It’s important to remember that you and your lawyer are now a team working together for the common goal of keeping you out of prison and finding the best result. Any information you provide may be helpful in arguments your lawyer may present to the prosecutor or judge in an effort to have your case dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor.
  4. If the case can not be dismissed or reduced then it’s important to make a decision as soon as possible as to whether or not to have a jury trial. If you are not going to trial then you may want to co-operate with the government to obtain a better sentence. If you’re going to fight the charges then taking sworn depositions of the witnesses may be necessary. The decision on whether to go to trial is often pivotal as to how much prison time may be at risk.

It’s possible that your drug case may be decided in the special drug court. If that happens trial is unlikely as the purpose of the drug court is to give the judge other options than prison and punishment. Whether your case is decided in drug court or in a typical felony division, the Florida sentencing guidelines provide the map by which the judge will make most sentencing decisions. Therefore it’s important that your defense lawyer understand the sentencing guidelines and how they apply in your drug case.

FEDERAL PROSECUTORS TOLD TO NO LONGER ENFORCE MARIJUANA LAWS IN STATES WHERE IT’S LEGALIZED

Your favorite Clearwater criminal defense attorney just obtained a memorandum sent today to each federal prosecutor working in every United States Attorney’s office. The memorandum outlines the factors which every prosecutor must now consider before pursuing marijuana trafficking cases.

Here are the six critical factors to be used by prosecutors in the future for every Department of Justice prosecution as delineated in the memorandum:

Cannabis is now legal in many states but not in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Is Cannabis Legal?

1. Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors. 

2. Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels. 

3. Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law from being dispersed to states where it is not legal. 

4. Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking in other illegal drugs or other illegal activity. 

5. Preventing violence and firearm use. 

6. Preventing DUI impairment from marijuana. Preventing the growing of marijuana on public parks or other public land or other federal property. 

What is most interesting is the fourth paragraph which represents a sea change of policy from Attorney General Holder’s previous guidelines for his prosecutors. 

Now state authorized marijuana activity will be monitored to prevent its use in other illegal drugs or other illegal activity, whereas before even if a state had legalized marijuana, the federal government viewed the marijuana growing as illegal activity subject to the federal law of drug trafficking in itself

Clearly citizens in states that do not allow marijuana will not be as likely as other citizens to be subject to the harsh minimum mandatory sentences for marijuana drug trafficking cases, which should bring some disparity of sentencing arguments as well as disparity of prosecution arguments into play by enterprising defense attorneys in every jurisdiction.

Here in Tampa Bay, Florida we can only hope that a new constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana will not only make the drug legal for medicinal purposes, but will stop at least some overzealous federal prosecutions that often result in unfair minimum mandatory prison sentences that judges do not have the discretion to go under. Because prosecutors always had more discretion under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, this roll back of harsh sentencing by Attorney General Holder will save many people from being branded as criminal by our government.

GOOGLING JUROR IN REGGAE STAR BUJU BANTON CASE LEADS JUDGE TO THROW OUT FIREARM CONVICTION

A Middle District of Florida District Judge in Tampa threw out a firearm conviction in a drug trafficking and conspiracy case against reggae star Buju Banton because one of his jurors apparently used information gleaned from the internet during jury deliberations. Unhappily for everyone involved the source of the juror’s information was not this blog. 



The goal of every Florida criminal trial should be to have a fair result, but the federal trial of Buju Banton may have been marred by a googling juror.
Buju Banton
Tampa Bay federal attorneys are often even more frightened of the federal firearm and weapons five year minimum mandatory than we are of wayward jurors in that the five year minimum mandatory sentence by law must be tacked on to the drug sentence to run consecutively. 
The judge has no discretion to run the sentences concurrently (at the same time, so a defendant serves two sentences at once) as is often possible in other crimes. 

Press reports note that the Judge is weighing what to do with the juror, but has made it clear that the juror could face a contempt of court charge based on an investigation of the juror’s seized computer and conflicting statements from the juror. Googling jurors have been a recurring problem in the Tampa Bay criminal justice system. One of the unfortunate aspects of any criminal case is how complicated jury instructions can be. And the juror may have simply been trying to understand a firearm issue that could even trip up seasoned lawyers and judges. 

In this case there was the additional complication of what is known as the Pinkerton Rule which establishes that if a co-defendant has a firearm in a federal offense others my be charged with the firearm and punished with the additional minimum mandatory five year sentence even if there was no proof the others had knowledge of the gun. 

This rule allows the federal prosecutors to leverage the firearm minimum mandatory to force a plea of guilty. When Bufu Banton elected to go to the jury on the drug charges, the Government made his sentencing exposure much harsher by adding the firearm count. All of this was given to Banton’s jury in jury instructions composed of arcane legal language that typical Americans could hardly be expected to appreciate or understand. 

Yet every Clearwater criminal defense lawyer would agree that American justice demands that a trial must be fair and that means that jurors must not be able to research facts and law during the trial.

USED VAN COMES ‘FULLY LOADED’ – BOUGHT FOR $14,000 HAS STASH OF $500,000 WORTH OF COCAINE FOUND BY MECHANIC WHEN BREAKS ARE FIXED – IN FLORIDA LACK OF KNOWLEDGE WOULD NOT STOP PROSECUTION

A psychologist in California thought he had a great deal on a used van at $14,000. But 14 months later when he had his breaks fixed the mechanic found over half a million dollars of Cocaine. “My hands went numb,” he said.
He’s a lucky man. He’s lucky that the drug cartel missing the cocaine didn’t find him, then lead him toward a life ending accident.  


And he’s especially lucky he doesn’t live in Florida. In Florida, Knowledge of the Cocaine is not required for arrest, prosecution and conviction of Trafficking in Cocaine
In Florida the innocent psychologist could be subjected to life with a 15 year Minimum Mandatory prison sentence, despite a Federal Judge making a finding that the law violates the United States Constitution. Drug Law Unconstitutional

EXCERPT FROM THE MERCURY NEWS:
“This insulation isn’t supposed to be here,” the mechanic said, digging behind the panel. But it soon became clear that the tablet-sized objects wrapped in purple and clear cellophane weren’t installed by the manufacturer.
“I’m, like, dumbfounded,” said Preston, who works at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “Honest to God, my hands went numb.”
Police quickly arrived and found 14 packages of cocaine hidden in the doors. After impounding the van for closer examination, they found five more above the back wheels, Preston said.
“They told me, ‘You’re so lucky, you’d be in jail for the rest of your life if you got searched in a traffic stop and they found this.’ “
But they also told him something chilling: Take the van back in to the repair shop to check for tracking devices because somebody is probably looking for it. Then get rid of it.
When Preston tried to return the coke-mobile to Thrifty Car Sales this summer for one without drugs, he said a manager was anything but solicitous. She told him he could trade in the van, but only for the current Blue Book value — about $4,000 less by his estimation than he originally paid. He had put about 6,000 miles on the van.
Chrysler van comes fully loaded — cocaine included – San Jose Mercury News
Criminal Defense Attorney and Trial Lawyer for Drug Crimes & DUI in Clearwater, FL
Florida – Drug Laws Ruled Unconstitutional – NYTimes.com
State drug trafficking laws ruled unconstitutional | ruled, state, city – The News Herald


Tampa Bay Police ask your help in finding the original owners of this Vehicle:
File:Carretto.jpg
Italy: Sicilian working cart,1890.

WHAT CAN FLORIDA LEARN FROM EUROPEAN DRUG DECRIMINALIZATION

In the nineteen-eighties most of the major industrialized countries of the world followed America’s lead in declaring war on drugs by harshly increasing sentences for convictions and spending more money on investigations and prosecutions. The result was higher percentages of people in the democracies being sent to prison, sometimes even higher then in the totalitarian countries. 
Minimum Mandatory Drug sentences are especially troubling for Clearwater Trial Attorneys such as myself who have seen the destructive force of the criminal law strike and destroy productive lives.
To the credit of our local judges and attorneys, Pinellas County has instituted an enlightened treatment for those who qualify, which will be described in more detail in a future blog. Adult Drug CourtClearwater Drug Defense Attorneys 


Yet for Florida Courts in search of justice some answers can be found from Portugal’s experience. Portugal, a gateway for drug importation for all of Europe, buckled under European Union pressure to commit a huge percentage of its population to long term prison sentences, then Portugal relented. Recently, the New Yorker wrote about Portugal’s solution, it success and its failure…


In 2001, Portuguese leaders, flailing about and desperate for change, took an unlikely gamble: they passed a law that made Portugal the first country to fully decriminalize personal drug use. 
For people caught with no more than a ten-day supply of marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, or crystal methamphetamine, there would be no arrests, no prosecutions, no prison sentences. 
Dealers are still sent to prison, or fined, or both, but, for the past decade, Portugal has treated drug abuse solely as a public-health issue. When caught, people are summoned before an administrative body called the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. Each panel consists of three members—usually a lawyer or a judge, a doctor, and a psychologist or a social worker. The commissioners have three options: recommend treatment, levy a small fine, or do nothing. In most respects, the law seems to have worked: serious drug use is down significantly, particularly among young people; the burden on the criminal-justice system has eased; the number of people seeking treatment has grown; and the rates of drug-related deaths and cases of infectious diseases have fallen. 
Yet there is much to debate about the Portuguese approach to drug addiction. Does it help people to quit, or does it transform them into more docile drug addicts, wards of an indulgent state, with little genuine incentive to alter their behavior? By removing the fear of prosecution, does the government actually encourage addicts to seek treatment? In the United States, the misuse of legally sold prescription medications has become a bigger health problem than the sale of narcotics or cocaine. There are questions not only about the best way to address addiction but also about how far any society should go, morally, philosophically, and economically, to placate drug addicts.
Portugal Decriminalized Drugs. What Can the U.S. Learn? : The New Yorker
DEA, Federal Trafficking Penalties
Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences Drug Chart
Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective? | RAND
Here’s a recent painting of a bright young couple eagerly awaiting their marriage license in Pinellas County, Florida.

Degas’ painting (1876) portrays grim Absinthe drinkers in a cafe, imagine how they’ll look when they see the bill.

CORRUPT SENTENCING CORRUPTS PROSECUTORS IN PINELLAS

Mandatory minimum drug sentences not only destroy those who are sentenced but corrupt those who must determine when they will be applied. Because the Florida legislature has taken the decision-making process away from Florida judges, the decisions have been left to prosecutors or those given that authority by elected prosecutors. Your Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney strongly believes that Florida Judges, not Florida prosecutors should be given discretion to go below mandatory minimum sentences, below I’ll show you why.

While I was a prosecutor in the Pinellas Sixth Judicial Circuit in Clearwater, a man named Murphy who was assigned the tasks of watching the attorneys at trial, evaluating their performances as well as determining when the state attorney’s office would amend the charging document to allow a judge to give a sentence below the the minimum mandatory range.

Murphy was trusted as the often green behind the ears attorneys in the office not only because he was the chief investigator, but because he had a long storied career of excellent service, judgement and achievment. I liked him a great deal. He was an affable irishman, always laughing, always ready to slap you on the back at the end of a successful drug trial. He’d always be there at sentencing to make sure neither you nor the judge dropped the ball and later he’d be at the bar buying a celebratory drink or two.

One day a young couple was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for forging scripts also known as prescription fraud for oxycodone they’d become addicted to after a horrific automobile accident a year or so before. The handful of pills triggered three year minimum mandatory sentences for each of them.

Not surprisingly Murphy recommended probation rather than jail in their cases. Without his recommendation neither the judges nor the attorneys would have been able to go under the three years.
Murphy had set up a hotel encounter with the wife, a quid pro quo for the mercy only he could give. Just as Murphy had taken off his clothes they heard a pounding at the door, the wife unlocked it and the husband burst into the room breaking things up.

Later taped conversations by FDLE and the FBI revealed that Murphy – the chief investigator and the man in charge of who could get less than the harsh drug sentence statutory mandatory – continued to solicite sex for a reduction of the sentence even after the hotel incident.

This obvious Prosecutorial Misconduct with the ensuing whirlwind of publicity aged Murphy and may have helped usher in Pinellas County Drug Court. Clearwater Criminal Lawyers will never forget seeing this once respected man humbled, jobless and ruined. At his sentencing with hands shaking, his health broken as he sat in his second-hand wheelchair with torn leather begging the judge to give him a period of probation rather than the lockup he surely deserved— where those prisoners serving their dull dark minimum mantory years would certainly have murdered him…