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Motions to dismiss drug charges denied across the state

September 15, 2011

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Criminal defense attorneys across the State of Florida have been peppering the courts with motions to dismiss drug cases from simple possession to drug trafficking. To date, only one judge out of Miami-Dade County has granted motions to dismiss drug cases based on an obscure ruling out of the federal court in the Middle District of Florida. While the Miami judge was one of the first to rule on the motion, other judges across the state have failed to follow suit. The latest order denying motions to dismiss based on the unconstitutionality of the state drug laws comes out of Panama City, Florida. Defendants charged with drug offenses have had their lawyers running to the court houses to file these motions. Again, the media twisted facts and led the general public to believe that drug cases throughout the state would be thrown out of court. This could not be further from the truth.

The story began with a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida that ruled that Florida's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control act was unconstitutional. Soon thereafter, a Miami judge handed down an order dismissing drug cases in his courtroom consistent with the federal court ruling. Since that time, every other judge in Miami, as well as, judges from Broward and Palm Beach Counties have routinely denied these motions to dismiss. Judges on the west coast of Florida up through panhandle have all denied these motions. On September 13, 2011, a circuit court judge from Panama City denied a motion to dismiss a drug trafficking case based on the same grounds. In a nutshell, the judge's ruling indicated that he was concerned about the state's drug laws, but his ruling fell back on an earlier decision issued by the First District Court of Appeal.

In 2002, the State of Florida re-wrote its drug laws and promulgated a new version of the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in response a ruling issued by the Supreme Court of the State of Florida in a drug conviction was overturned. The new law allows an individual to be charged and convicted of a drug offense even though a person did not intend to possess drugs or were not even aware of their presence. Florida is the only state where a conviction for a drug offense can be legally sustained without proof of one's intent to possess controlled substances. The current state of law allows for jurors to presume that a defendant was aware of the presence of illicit substance and shifted the burden of proof to the defendant to convince a jury that he or she was not aware of the illegality of the substance or its presence. That is the crux of the argument in all of the motions to dismiss. Defendants should not be compelled to testify or present evidence in a case with the sole burden resting on the prosecution.

The federal judge that found the state statute unconstitutional ruled that holding someone presumptively guilty violated the basic fundamentals of the Constitution. The circuit court in Miami followed suit and dismissed 39 cases. After that, every other judge has upheld the state statute, leaving the decision to the appellate courts, with the ultimate decision likely residing with the Supreme Court of Florida. The issue may find its way all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. With all that being said, anyone charged with a drug related offense should believe the media hype or veiled promises from some lawyers. The chances of having a motion to dismiss a drug offense based on these grounds is slim to none. However, experienced criminal defense lawyers should eventually file these motions in all cases to preserve a defendant's appellate rights.

Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Drug Charges, The Walton, September 14, 2011.
Categories: Drug Offenses
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