I’m often asked about the likely sentence someone could receive for various drug offenses in Florida. Many factors dictate how much discretion a judge may have in providing a sentence that does not punish too harshly.
Here are the five most important factors which will be taken into account by the sentencing judge in the first assigned courtroom or if moved to the new Pinellas County Drug Court:
1. The type of drug is an important factor in sentencing. There are many illegal drugs. A drug such as heroin will be more severely punished that a more benign drug such as marijuana or a prescription drug.
2. The amount of drug is a very significant factor in drug sentencing in Florida. A sentence for drugs will be based on the quantity of drugs possessed. Quantity of drugs can be based on the sheer weight of drugs or can be measured by the number of pills possessed by a defendant. If the quantity attributable to a defendant is large enough, then the Florida sentencing guidelines may be trumped by a minimum mandatory sentence which the judge must give under Florida’s harsh drug sentencing laws. For example, only a handful of oxycodone pills will trigger a three year minimum mandatory sentence. Although marijuana is more benign than many other drugs, someone who is raising just a few plants may be charged with having a grow house which would require the judge to give a long sentence of imprisonment.
3. The criminal history of the defendant is always a factor in drug sentencing in Florida courts. Someone with no prior drug arrests may be eligible for treatment rather than face more severe sanctions such as prison. However, the judge must take the Florida guidelines into account when sentencing. This means that someone’s prior record even for non-drug offenses may outweigh the need for treatment forcing the judge to give a severe sentence.
4. If weapons, firearms or guns were found incident to the arrest for drugs, then you’re expectation should be that the prosecutor will ask the judge for a harsher penalty. In Pinellas County, Florida additional charges may be filed or additional time given at the sentencing hearing in your Clearwater courtroom. While in the Federal system in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa the government will ask the judge to give an additional five years on top of whatever the sentence would have been.
5. Finally, if there is an allegation of violence during the use or distribution of drugs in Florida, it’s likely that the sentencing judge will use this as an aggravating factor to give a higher sentence. For example, an arresting officer who claims that he was battered during the course of the investigation will not only file an additional felony charge of Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, but will ask prosecutors to give additional punishment at sentencing.
As you can see there are many variables in any drug charge which may dictate a future sentence. It’s important to have a criminal defense lawyer look at the facts of your case to insure that you receive the lowest possible sentence by making arguments to reduce the quantity, quality and relevance of any drugs that may have been found in your possession.