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Florida Drug Trafficking Laws, Penalties, and Defenses Against Them

Florida has long held a reputation for having some of the nation’s strictest drug laws and robust enforcement initiatives. The law classifies most drug-related offenses as felonies, and drug trafficking offenses are penalized with mandatory minimum prison sentences.

According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics, courts in the state convicted more than 2,000 people on assorted drug trafficking charges in 2022. And trust us; you don’t want to join those statistics. Under Florida law, those convicted of drug trafficking face mandatory fines and prison sentences primarily ranging from three to 25 years, depending on the type and amount of drug(s). Heroin trafficking in amounts above 30 kilograms carries a mandatory minimum lifetime prison sentence. Trafficking any drug near a school, hospital, substance-abuse treatment center, and other healthcare facilities can add five extra years to the mandatory minimum.

If you’re facing drug trafficking charges, then you need the skills of an experienced criminal defense lawyer—like those at Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law—to help strategize a defense designed to secure an acquittal, dismissal, reduced charges, pretrial intervention, or other favorable outcome. Read on to learn more about Florida’s drug trafficking laws and how our lawyers defend against the charges.

What is Drug “Trafficking” in Florida?

Florida Statute 893.135 describes the trafficking offense as “[a]ny person who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, or brings into the state, or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession of [prohibited drugs in an amount above the trafficking threshold]”. Thus, you don’t have to be engaged in trafficking activities to be charged with the offense—merely possessing an amount above a certain threshold can lead to trafficking charges.

Possession Amounts That Trigger the Trafficking Threshold

Recreational cannabis remains illegal in Florida, so even possession of a joint can result in a misdemeanor charge. Possession of more than 25 pounds or 300 plants, though, hits the trafficking threshold and puts you in line for a potential mandatory minimum three-year prison term and a $25,000 fine. Other minimum thresholds to support a trafficking charge for Florida’s most popular illegal drugs include:

  • Cocaine—28 grams
  • Amphetamines—14 grams
  • Fentanyl—four grams
  • Oxycodone—four grams
  • Heroin—four grams
  • Morphine—four grams
  • Opium—four grams
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)—10 grams
  • Lysergic acid (LSD)—one gram
  • Hydrocodone—four grams
  • Methaqualone—200 grams
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB date-rape drug)—one kilogram

The More You Have, the Harsher the Sentence

Above-threshold possession of these drugs and dozens of others listed in the state’s illegal drugs schedule typically comes with a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence and a $50,000 fine ($25,000 for cannabis) on conviction. All of the prohibited drugs have higher threshold amounts that carry even more severe mandatory minimum penalties. For example, 200 to 400 grams of cocaine carries a minimum seven-year sentence and a $100,000 fine, while more than 400 grams leads to 15 years and a $250,000 fine.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation that raises the penalties for second-tier 14-to-28-gram threshold amounts of fentanyl, with the mandatory minimum now set at 20 years imprisonment. If you breach the 28-gram threshold, the minimum remains at 25 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

The bottom line is that Florida severely punishes drug traffickers, and the more drugs you’re caught trafficking, the harsher the punishment. Know also that in addition to the sentence handed down by the court, drug traffickers are subject to civil forfeiture of money, vehicles, and even their homes if the government can link these possessions to the drug trade.

What To Do If You Are Arrested for Drug Trafficking

If you are arrested for drug trafficking charges, seek out the services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Other than identifying yourself, do not provide police with any information until you have consulted with your lawyer. Invoke your Constitutional right to remain silent to ensure that police cannot use what you say against you in court.

Common Defenses to Drug Trafficking Charges

Your criminal defense lawyer can strategize any number of defenses to trafficking charges depending upon the particular details of your case. Many defense strategies rely on challenging the evidence by raising enough reasonable doubts about it to prevent a guilty judgment—innocent until “proven” guilty.

In many drug trafficking cases, defense lawyers successfully challenge the legality of police searches, as police tend to be overly aggressive when pursuing suspected drug crimes. When the defense can prove that police exceeded their authority in conducting a search, arrested the suspect with insufficient probable cause, or secured a search warrant by fudging the facts, the court will suppress the evidence, which can lead to a dismissal of charges.

Defense lawyers may also be able to raise affirmative defense strategies that admit that the crime occurred but show that the actions were legally justified. A common affirmative defense in trafficking cases is to prove entrapment, in which police or their informant(s) coerced the defendant to engage in drug-related activity they may not have otherwise done. Courts usually dismiss charges when the defense successfully proves that entrapment occurred.

If the evidence against you is overwhelming, your lawyer may recommend you pursue a substantial assistance agreement with the court. Under this statute-authorized scenario, the state attorney will ask the court to reduce or suspend the drug trafficking conviction in exchange for you providing police with substantial assistance in identifying other persons engaged in drug trafficking. Defendants must meet the requirements of these negotiated contracts within a set time period to avoid the mandatory minimum sentence of the crime.

Consult with Cowhey + Ward for Your Drug Trafficking Defense

Given the harsh penalties that come with a drug trafficking conviction, the criminal defense lawyers at Cowhey + Ward work diligently to secure the best possible outcome for their clients. Depending on the evidence and case details, your Cowhey + Ward lawyer will strive for acquittal or dropped charges as warranted or seek a negotiated agreement with the prosecutor to mitigate penalties by agreeing to plead guilty to a non-trafficking drug offense. To learn how Cowhey + Ward can help strategize your drug trafficking defense, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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