Drug Charges - An OverviewDrug charges cover a vast range of offenses, from the simple possession of drug paraphernalia, to the more serious manufacturing and distributing drug enterprises. However, the most minor charge can be scary considering the charge may carry the risk of serious penalties upon conviction. The more serious charges, of course, can present more dreadful consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney can take some of the fear out of drug charges by answering questions and guiding an accused offender through the complex legal process that is part of a drug charge case.
In 1970, the federal government passed the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (“the Act”), which codified federal drug law into a uniform system. The Act classifies drugs into five categories, listed in schedules, and sets regulatory requirements and penalties for the misuse of the drugs on each schedule. The Act also allows the United States Attorney General to add drugs to the schedules as necessary. Most states have drug laws that follow the federal act, but the penalties may be less harsh and more flexible under the state sentencing guidelines than under the federal system. In Florida, the drug offenses are prosecuted under the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (the “Florida Drug Act”) in Florida Statutes Chapter 893.01, et. seq., as amended. A conviction of simple possession, for example may result in a sentence under state law of drug treatment rather than jail time, and probation may be available to first-time offenders for even the more serious crimes.
The most severe legal restrictions and penalties involve Schedule I and II drugs as set forth in the Act and in the Florida Drug Act. Schedule I drugs are those that have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and do not meet accepted safety standards in its use under medical supervision. The most well known Schedule I drugs are heroin, LSD, mescaline, marijuana, and peyote. Schedule II drugs have a currently accepted, but severely restricted, medical use in treatment in the United States, but have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II drugs include opium, hydrocodone, oxycodone, cocaine, methadone, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.
Schedule III drugs have a potential for abuse less than the substances contained in Schedules I and II and have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and abuse of the substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence or, in the case of anabolic steroids, may lead to physical damage. The most well known Schedule III drugs are testosterone, ketamine, and nalline, which is used to detect narcotic use.
Schedule IV drugs have a low potential for abuse relative to the substances in Schedule III, have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and abuse of the substance may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule III. These drugs include Alprazolam, Fludiazepam, tranquilizers, sedatives, and most drugs that cause sleep. Schedule V drugs have a low potential for abuse relative to the substances in Schedule IV and have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and abuse of such compound, mixture, or preparation may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule IV. Schedule V drugs include drugs with small amounts of codeine, opium, or other narcotics in them. Drug-Related Crimes and Penalties
It is essential for an accused to be represented by attorneys who have experience navigating the Florida Drug Act and handling the sentencing issues. The crime of "simple possession" requires that the offender knowingly and intentionally possess a scheduled drug without a valid prescription. The government must prove that the offender knew the drug was a controlled substance and that he or she had either actual possession of it or other control over it, either alone or with another. The impact of a possession case is not limited to just a fine, jail or probation. A mere possession case can adversely affect one’s current and future employment prospects, one’s privilege to drive (see Florida Statute Chapter 322.055), and other practical collateral consequences. Manufacturing, delivering, or possessing with intent to deliver a controlled substance is a crime with increased penalties depending on the drug involved, the quantity of the drug, and the offender's prior record. Some crimes, such as distributing controlled substances to persons under twenty-one years of age, distributing controlled substances near a school, and causing persons under age eighteen to violate drug laws, are penalty-enhancement crimes for which the sentence doubles or triples what otherwise would be given for distributing a particular amount and type of drug under other circumstances.
The offense of "continuing criminal enterprise" is charged when the defendant commits a felony drug violation as part of a continuing enterprise or scheme with five or more individuals, and from which substantial income is derived. The penalty may be twenty years to life in prison, or the maximum of the death penalty if the defendant intentionally kills another in the course of the enterprise.
Drug crimes carry harsh penalties, particularly under the federal law. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime, you may be facing significant time in county jail or in prison-a frightening thought for most people. If your future is on the line because of a drug charge, call The Law Office of Paul Courtright, P.A. today.
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