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Probable Cause and Drug Possession in Florida

February 21, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 209

If asked about "probable cause" and how a police officer is required to act during a suspected drug offense, many would be unable to articulate how this process is supposed to work. This not only puts the general population in a position of ignorance, it may also allow law enforcement to take liberties in how they approach the situation.

Understanding the process of probable cause in Florida and how law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are required to act may not only lead to a greater understanding of law, but also may allow you to make sure your individual rights are protected.

What is Probable Cause?

To understand your rights in this situation, one must first understand the broadest definition of probable cause. To start, the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution specifically conveys the federal stance on this issue.

4th Amendment- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issues, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This federal amendment allows you the right to appeal a conviction based on what you believe was an improper search and seizure. In extreme circumstances, the case may go all the way to the Supreme Court, which will interpret the validity of your argument using this framework.

According to Florida Statute §901.15, a law enforcement officer may arrest a person without a warrant when:

·The person has committed a felony or misdemeanor or violated a municipal or county ordinance in the presence of the officer. An arrest for the commission of a misdemeanor or the violation of a municipal or county ordinance shall be made immediately or in fresh pursuit.

·A felony has been committed and he or she reasonably believes that the person committed it.

·He or she reasonably believes that a felony has been or is being committed and that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing it.

·A warrant for the arrest has been issued and is held by another peace officer for execution.

This basically states that law enforcement needs sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime. Probable cause must exist for a police officer to make an arrest without a warrant, search without a warrant, or seize property in the belief the items were evidence of a crime.

Drug Possession in Florida

With regard to drug possession, Florida Statute §893.13 states:

·If you are found to be in possession of cocaine, heroin, meth, or another illegal drug (excluding marijuana) you may be charged with a 3rd degree felony, bringing with it a maximum sentence of five years in prison and up to $5000 in fines

·For Marijuana possession, for 20 grams or less, it is a 1st degree misdemeanor which has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1000 fine

Considering Florida drug possession offenses commonly deal with various levels of probable cause, knowledge of how the officer, as well as you, are supposed to act when dealing with a situation such as this is very important in mitigating the potential negative consequences.

How Can I Make Sure My Rights are Protected?

Probable cause can be easier to define in instances like seeing drugs in plain sight or seeing a drug deal occur. The line becomes blurred when law enforcement bases their decision on less concrete factors like "odd behavior" or "furtive motions."

Since "interpretive" probable cause is common in Florida drug cases, many people arrested for a misdemeanor or felony choose to work with a defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help analyze the police reports, evidence, and eye-witness accounts to determine the validity of the law enforcement officer's probable cause. If it can be established that the search or stop was unlawful, an attorney may see more success in arguing for case dismissal or the exclusion of evidence obtained unlawfully.

Although you may be charged, remember that you have the right to refuse to speak with the law enforcement official during the initial arrest. If you suspect that your rights have been violated, it is best to stay silent and discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer. Even if you feel the arrest was groundless, speaking to the authorities when emotional may lead you to inadvertently confuse details, which may be used against you by the prosecution later on.

Being knowledgeable and informed when it comes to Florida law and your individual rights, while making sure to retain capable legal counsel, will keep the situation from becoming worse than it already is. Not only will you be prepared to fight the charges, there is also the possibility of finding holes in the prosecution, allowing you to avoid unnecessary consequences or additional penalties.

Maria D. Hale is a founding partner of Hale & Hale, P.A., and has over 12 years of experience in the criminal justice system. As an Orlando drug possession attorney, she aggressively defends those in Orange County and the surrounding areas of Osceola County and Seminole County who are accused of various drug possession related offenses. This includes possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, drug trafficking, marijuana possession, and other similar offenses. Maria is focused on providing clients with quality legal representation.

Source: EzineArticles
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