St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid specializes in representing people charged with felony drug charges in Pinellas County, Florida. All of these cases are assigned to one of the felony divisions at the Pinellas County Justice Center at 14250 49th St N, Clearwater, FL 33762. Since 2000, Sean McQuaid has been representing those charged with felonies for drug possession almost exclusively in Pinellas County. It is through these countless cases that he has developed a stellar reputation among the judges and the prosecutors for always acting in the best interests of his clients. Felony drug charges can be complex and are sometimes an indication of an addiction that requires help. Sean McQuaid has devoted his career to helping people charged with drug crimes while protecting their criminal record and keeping them out of jail.
What Happens After an Arrest for Felony Drug Possession?
If you have been arrested for a felony drug charge by law enforcement, that is called a probable cause arrest. This means you have not been formally charged, just arrested based on probable cause. After an arrest for any felony drug charge, your case will be assigned to an Assistant State Attorney for investigation. A State Attorney will conduct this investigation about two weeks after the arrest. The investigation period usually lasts a few weeks, but the State technically has 175 days from the date of your felony arrest to charge you before the case is time-barred. The State Attorney’s Office in Pinellas County never misses that 175 day mark.
The State Attorney’s purpose is to determine what, if any, charges to formally bring. During the investigation, the State Attorney will speak to the arresting officer, interview any witnesses, and confirm that the drugs were illegal. It is during this investigative period that a criminal defense attorney is most influential. This period is important for your defense lawyer because before a charge is formally brought, we have the opportunity to present defenses and mitigating circumstances. If there is a chance to get the charge dismissed or reduced, this is the point in the case to accomplish it.
Pinellas County is different from many counties throughout Florida. Pinellas County prosecutors spend more time investigating the charges because they keep the cases and must be able to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, more cases get amended or dismissed (the technical term is a no information) during the investigation period. To the contrary, if you have a criminal case in Hillsborough County, more cases are charged and then assigned to a new prosecutor. Because the new prosecutor many not like the case or the filing decision, they are more willing to reduce or dismiss charges later on in the case. In Pinellas County, once a charge is formally filed, it is very difficult to get it dismissed.
What Is Actual Possession Versus Constructive Possession of a Drug?
Ownership of the drug has little to no bearing on the State’s ability to prove the case. What matters is whether the State can prove possession of the drugs in question. There are two ways that possession can be proven: actual possession or constructive possession.
- Actual possession refers to the situation where someone actually possesses the drugs. For example, the drugs were found in your pocket or your purse.
- Constructive possession refers to all other situations. For constructive possession to be proven, the State must show that a person has knowledge of the drugs and the ability to exercise dominion and control over them.
A common example is when drugs are found in a car and there are multiple people in the car. Even though you may not have actually had the drugs on you, the fact that they were in the car and you had the ability to access them is the way that constructive possession is charged. Obviously, it is easier to defend a case of constructive possession compared to actual possession because it is much harder to prove knowledge.
Goals in All Felony Drug Charge Cases:
If you are a first time offender or even if you have been arrested before, the goal is always to avoid a criminal record and keep you out of jail. Because drug crimes are so common and are not crimes of violence, the State is more willing to focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Rehab or treatment is very important, especially for first-time offenders. In most cases, the State wants to see that the defendant is clean and has engaged in some form of treatment.
First-time offenders are usually offered some type of diversion program. In Pinellas County, this diversion program is called pre-trial intervention or PTI. During a PTI program, a defendant must agree to a program lasting between 12-18 months where they must complete counseling and get randomly tested for drugs. At the conclusion of the program, the State will dismiss the charges. Thus, the first time offender’s record will stay clean upon successful completion of the program.
For those who do not qualify for PTI, there is also an option called a withhold of adjudication. A withhold of adjudication means that the court withholds adjudication. The effect is that the defendant is not convicted of a felony and does not incur the repercussions of same.
Felony Drug Charge Attorney in Pinellas County
If you have been arrested in Pinellas County for any type of felony drug charges, it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. If you try to save money by waiting to see if charges will be filed, you are costing yourself a vital opportunity to minimize the consequences of your case. If an attorney is not there to provide your side of the story to the State Attorney, that means he or she only gets to hear from the police and that usually does not end well for a defendant. If you have any questions regarding your felony drug case in Pinellas County, please contact St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid for a free consultation.