Narcotics detectives investigating Florida drug crimes in Miami-Dade recently employed a police drone to capture an alleged cocaine sale between a suspect and an undercover informant. According to The Miami Herald, this was a first in a criminal investigation. Its use had to be first approved by a judge in a case against a 31-year-old accused of numerous drug and weapons charges.
Our Fort Lauderdale defense attorneys understand this news comes right as lawmakers in Florida are weighing whether to approve limited expansion of police drone use. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country have increased their purchases and use of drones as the technology has gotten cheaper – even as defense lawyers have raised concerns about civil rights and privacy intrusions.
The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College reports some 900 agencies in the U.S. (most of those law enforcement) purchased the lightweight, unmanned aerial devices in 2018. That number will soon be updated for 2019, and it’s expected to be much higher. Some police agencies anticipate that the use of drones by cops will someday be as ubiquitous as body cameras. But there is legitimate skepticism about the legality of these devices, particularly where agencies have declined to provide information to the public about their drone programs. For instance, police agencies in Southern California won’t release any details of their drone operations, despite one city claiming it has carried out more than 1,000 drone missions in a single year leading to well over 100 arrests.
Some departments have been criticized for flying drones over certain crowds of protesters, raising concerns about government spying. Continue reading
More than 1,000 inmates in Florida’s prisons are serving time for drug crimes that are either no longer illegal under state law or for which sentencing has been substantially reduced. That’s according to a report by The Tampa Bay Times, where reporters took a hard look at how long-running minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes in the Sunshine State have adversely impacted individuals, families and entire communities. Those sentencing guidelines have largely been eased, but as our Broward criminal defense attorneys can explain, the new standards have little impact for someone already convicted, sentenced and serving time.
Some are calling for state lawmakers to address the issue, describing these inmates as in a state of “legal purgatory.”
The problem dates back to the 1990s, when cocaine addiction was wreaking havoc on South Florida communities. At the time, Florida had the highest rate of violent crime in the country. It was the “get tough on crime” era, and lawmakers enacted measures that would impose severe minimum mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders AND those convicted of drug trafficking. At the time, lawmakers said they were after the drug lords – not people carrying a few ounces of illegal substances for personal use.
What ended up happening, however, was that those who were not drug lords were swept up as well. People with chronic pain and addiction to opiods who had run out of their monthly medication would turn to the streets – and be labeled drug traffickers for the amount they carried. Continue reading
Florida passengers en route to California are being arrested after authorities at local airports detect the smell of marijuana on them. California, as most are now aware, is one of the handful of states that now allows the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Florida law is much more stringent, allowing sale, use and possession only for medicinal use, as recommended by a physician.
VICE.com reports on criminal investigations and civil forfeiture actions lead by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office’s narcotics and money laundering task force that target passengers on their way to California.
While in criminal cases, the burden of proof is on prosecutors to prove one’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil forfeiture action, however, it’s the property owner who has the burden of proof to show the cash or other property to establish that those funds or properties weren’t being used for criminal drug activity. That often deters people from filing counterclaims to retrieve their items. Law enforcement appears to count on the assumption that people won’t pursue retrieval of their property. Continue reading
Florida’s penalties for drug traffickers are harsh. With few exceptions, penalties imposed for homicide are much harsher. But increasingly, when drug users die, their dealers are being charged with their murder – thanks to a 2017 Florida law passed unanimously by the state legislature.
For example last year, a 26-year-old father reportedly died one month after moving from Ohio to Florida, where his girlfriend and son were slated to join him weeks later. The medical examiner reported finding a form of opioid fentanyl in his system, at which point his death investigation became a homicide investigation. Several neighbors were interviewed, after which police identified the suspected dealer of the drugs in the decedent’s system. They arranged two undercover buys, after which time he was arrested for selling drugs near a school – a felony. The investigation continued, and the suspect was charged with first-degree murder in the death of the man who had overdosed.
Florida arrests that begin with probable cause searches initiated by the “sniff test” (i.e., detecting the distinct aroma of cannabis) may be no more. For that, we can thank the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalizing hemp and its derivative CBD (cannabidiol), as well as the Florida statute that followed to align with it as Congress instructed.
The federal law, which went into effect Jan. 1st, removed industrial hemp and CBD from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act list of unlawful and dangerous drugs. However, many states – Florida included – still had laws on the books that criminalized these substances. Florida’s new law fixes that.
Florida’s New Hemp/CBD Law Sweeping in Effect on Criminal Pot Cases
What this now means, as Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, is not only will future marijuana arrests in Florida most certainly be significantly curtailed, but it may even impact pending cases – at least going back to July 1st and possibly all the way back to January. Continue reading
Cannabidiol oil, better known as CBD, is touted in Florida stores as a means to alleviate anxiety and depression. But a dose of it with a little too much THC could have you feeling a different kind of anxious – in a South Florida jail cell.
Criminal defense attorneys in Palm Beach know this probably has a lot of folks confused. After all, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized commercial hemp and the CBD that is derived from it. Hemp is used to make a wide range of goods and products, from textiles to soap. CBD is a derivative of hemp which is a type of cannabis, but unlike it’s cousin marijuana, hemp has little-to-no THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol). This is the psychoactive extract of the drug, meaning that’s what makes a person feel that euphoric high.
But while federal the latest Farm Bill removed commercial hemp and CBD from the list of federally-controlled substances, there are two things to keep in mind:
- The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) still prohibits CBD for use in food, beverage and cosmetics products. (Many business owners are flouting this rule, and currently do so at their own risk.)
- State marijuana laws are a patchwork, and not every state allows CBD oil. In Florida, you could still run into trouble with CBD if it contains any trace amount of THC (the federal limit 0.03 percent) and you don’t have a doctor-recommended state-issued marijuana patient card.
The saying goes that one man’s trash is the next man’s treasure, basically meaning that we all place different value on material goods. But in the case of a South Florida defense attorney, it’s more likely to refer to the fact that you’re literal trash may be the treasure of a prosecutor seeking to put you behind bars.
With the proliferation of DNA evidence as key to prosecutions, digging through a suspect’s trash has become a growing source of evidence for many state and federal attorneys. Generally speaking, unlike the contents of your home or even a DNA test of your own bodily fluids, once your trash is carried to the garbage for disposal, it becomes fair game for law enforcement authorities to access – without a warrant. As established in the 1978 federal case of U.S. v. Crowell by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy per the Fourth Amendment for the garbage you place outside for collection. In fact, so-called “trash pulls” have become a veritable treasure trove for some narcotics units in Florida. In some cases, it even becomes the basis for securing a search warrant on your actual home.
However, it’s not unheard of for police agencies to get too hasty in their quest to gather evidence sufficient for probable cause to secure a warrant to fail to obtain adequate evidence prior to requesting that warrant. For example, simply finding cocaine residue or marijuana seeds in the bottom of a trash bin may in fact be insufficient, thus leading to an affidavit that is deficient for the warrant that is ultimately signed. Based on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, that could mean everything that is found thereafter is inadmissible (if your criminal defense lawyer files a motion to suppress) – and may result in an entire case being tossed. Continue reading
Florida has allowed possession and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes since 2014 per the Compassionate Use Act, with expanded qualifying conditions effective in 2017, per the passage of Amendment 2. Miami marijuana defense attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm know many communities, including Broward and Miami-Dade, “decriminalized” the possession of small amounts of marijuana, though departments do still have discretion to issue citations and, in some cases, make arrests.
What impact, if any, do Florida’s medical marijuana laws have on vehicle searches predicated on the distinct smell of the drug?
In one case following a Miami marijuana arrest, a man is asserting a novel defense: A motion to suppress evidence found when police searched his truck and discovered a stash of marijuana based on violation of constitutional right against unlawful search and seizure. The Miami Herald reports the argument hinges on the state’s legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, which the attorney says means the odor of marijuana in and of itself is no longer cause for reasonable suspicion of a crime, which would otherwise be the foundation for a lawful search. Continue reading
Florida has allowed medicinal marijuana since the Compassionate Use Act of 2014, expanded effective in 2017. The law allows those with certain medical conditions to secure a doctor’s recommendation for a prescription and purchase certain cannabis extracts, so long as it’s not smoked. Although this is in conflict with the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, the 2018 Farm Bill did effectively legalize hemp (produced from the cannabis plant but with no more than 0.3 percent THC), which in turn should have legalized most CBD products. However, there are some significant restrictions, as can be explained by our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys and further detailed by researchers at The Brookings Institute.
For instance, any CBD that contains more than 0.3 percent THC (the element in marijuana with psychoactive effects) would be considered non-hemp cannabis, thus having no protection under federal law. Secondly, the Farm Bill allotted for significant shared federal and state regulatory power over hemp production and cultivation. For example, state departments of agriculture and chief law enforcement agencies are responsible for devising a plan for regulation and enforcement of hemp cultivation. Those plans must be submitted to the USDA, and state licensing can only commence once the USDA has granted approval. In states opting not to map their own regulatory plans, the USDA will draft a regulatory program with federal oversight. So essentially, hemp – and thus CBD – are legalized under the Farm Bill, but only if they meet certain criteria; you can’t grow or sell or buy these products the way you can basil or tomatoes.
But confusion persists across the state, with Florida Today reporting small-time vendors are finding themselves facing felony marijuana trafficking charges in Florida for something they thought was legal. For example, a 64-year-old in Melbourne, FL who operates a medical hemp business out of a flea market was targeted by authorities who suspect him of selling illegal cannabis products, tens of thousands of dollars of which they seized in a raid just before the holidays. Those included lollipops and other edibles as well as oils. He has not yet been charged, but authorities have reportedly told him to expect felony charges. The case underscores the fact that what is legal and what is isn’t is somewhat obscured when it comes to hemp/CBD. Continue reading