As a criminal defense attorney in Pinellas County, Florida, I see a lot of cases involving the sale of drugs. Many of my clients either have a warrant for their arrest, have just bonded out, or believe that they are under investigation.
This guide to sale of drug charges was written to help those accused of selling drugs understand how the system works and what to expect. Because I have handled countless drug sale charges in Pinellas County over my career, I hope this is a valuable resource for you.
Pinellas County Drug Sale Charges
What Is the Process If I Am Accused of Selling Drugs?
There are two ways that drugs are sold in criminal cases:
- directly to an undercover detective; or
- to a confidential informant (CI).
These are also called hand to hand sales. Normally, no arrest is made at the scene. This is because the police do not want anyone to know the identity of who bought the drugs. So, even though the police have probable cause to make an arrest immediately, they hold off. During this waiting period, they will send the drugs off to the lab. It can take months before they take the next step in the case.
Step 1- You are Now in the System
The next step in the process by law enforcement is to turn the case over to the Office of the State Attorney. As mentioned before, they usually wait months. The case then gets set for what is called a non-arrest investigation (invest). During the investigation, the police officer presents the case to the prosecutor. The typical charges are sale of the drug and possession of the drug. They always throw in both charges because the drug is possessed and then sold. They are two separate crimes and both felonies (unless there was a sale of less than 20 grams of marijuana). If prescription medication is sold, they never ask or check for a prescription in advance. They just file both felony charges and put the burden on the accused to provide proof of a prescription.
Step 2- Prosecutor Decides Which Charges to File
After the charge is decided, the prosecutor prepares a charging document called an Information. All of the sale and possession charges are in the Information. The prosecutor then drafts an affidavit for the police officer to sign.
Step 3- Prosecutor Take the case to the Judge
The prosecutor then takes the Information and the affidavit to a judge. The judge issues an arrest warrant. The judge determines the amount of the bond based on what is written in the affidavit. And, as you can predict, the affidavit always sounds bad and the bonds are always high.
Step 4- Arrest Warrant is Turned Over to the Pinellas County Sheriff
The final step is to send the warrant over to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). The warrant is sent to a specific division which does not mess around. The amount of deputies and money that they spend to serve a warrant is ridiculous and overkill. PCSO will find your house or your family’s house and show up with about 15 police officers at 6 AM. They are aggressive and threatening. If you have already bonded out on a charge, you know what I mean. They know nothing about the case and don’t care about you or your family. Their only mission is to arrest you and take you to the Pinellas County Jail.
Why Do Drug Sale Charges Take So Long?
It is absolutely ridiculous and unfair how long it takes for these charges to be brought. I just had a case that was thirteen months from the time of the sale to the charge being filed. There was nothing unusual about it and no reason for it to take that long. Then the case takes several more months while it goes through the court system to get resolved. Some of my clients have moved out of state and then have to return to turn themselves in. Some have changed their lives for the better and then get dragged back into the system. Some have had other charges in the meantime and have resolved their cases to then have to deal with these charges. But, the bad news is that regardless how unfair it is to have to wait, it is perfectly legal. There is no defense simply because they dragged their feet. But, I do my best to use anything positive that has happened during that time frame to your advantage.
What Is a Drug Sale?
The sale of a drug is a broad term under Florida law. The crime is found in Fla. Stat. § 893.13(1)(a) and (2)(a). All drugs are called controlled substances. In order to prove the charge of a sale of a drug, the State of Florida must show the following elements:
- You sold, purchased, manufactured, delivered, possessed with intent to sell, possessed with intent to purchase, possessed with intent to manufacture, or possessed with the intent to deliver a certain substance;
- The substance was a controlled substance;
- You knew of the presence of the controlled substance.
Common Drug Sale Charges in Pinellas County
While any drug can be sold, there are certain common charges that I see. While not discussed in detail here, the sale of fentanyl is becoming increasingly common. It is a major problem in Pinellas County. My advice is to stay away from fentanyl. Not only is it incredibly dangerous and addictive, the prosecutors and judges have made it a mission to crack down hard on these cases.
Sale of Marijuana Charges
The general trend is that the sale of marijuana is being viewed less harshly. I have had great success in getting very lenient deals on these cases lately. We are often able to avoid felony convictions and jail.
Sale of Cocaine Charges
The sale of powder cocaine and crack cocaine is still the most common case in Pinellas County. Law enforcement knows how to make these cases and actively looks for them. South St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, and Clearwater are where most of the cases come from. In every cocaine case, the police try to keep buying until they are sold a trafficking amount (over 28 grams).
Sale of Controlled Substance Charges
Most of the sale of controlled substance charges in Pinellas County are pills. There is so much prescription medication being sold, that these cases are extremely common. I have found that most of these cases start when an addict friend gets in trouble. The police scare the person that they will go to prison unless they agree to work off the charges as a CI. The friend/addict then begs someone with a prescription to sell him/her some pills. I have seen CIs literally harass and stalk people until they buy these pills. Fortunately, if you do not have a bad record and only sold a small amount of pills, I can usually minimize the penalties.
What Is a Sale of a Controlled Substance?
All drugs are technically called controlled substances under Florida law. Even though the specific drug may be called by name in your paperwork, it will always be classified as a controlled substance in Fla. Stat. § 893.03. Do not get confused. A controlled substance and a drug are the same thing. In my career, I see some prosecutors call every charge the sale of a controlled substance, while others prefer to call the drug by name. It doesn’t really matter and there is no effect on your case or defense.
What Is the Punishment for Selling Drugs in Florida?
Almost all sale charges in Florida are second degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The one common exception is the sale of marijuana. If you sell marijana, then the sale charge is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
These are definitely serious charges and the court system treats them harshly. But, just because the maximum punishment sounds scary, it does not mean that you have to go to prison. There are many things that you can do to earn leniency.
- Stay out of trouble
- Stay clean and sober
- Provide negative urine screens
- Go to rehab or counseling
- Do community service
- Get a real job!
- Get letters of recommendation
- Get your GED
Will I Go to Prison for Selling Drugs?
The goal in every sale case is to avoid prison. The good news is that most sale of drug charges do not require mandatory prison time. Drug trafficking charges are different, but are not discussed in this article. For a defendant with no prior record, or a minimal record, two or fewer sales charges should not require prison. If you have a prior felony record, you are at much more risk of going to prison.
You might have heard of points in Florida sentencing. These are from the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Florida law gives every crime a certain amount of points. If your total points add up to 44 or more, then you are required to go to prison. One or two sale charges alone do not add up to 44 points, so prison is not required. Now, that does not mean that a judge cannot give you prison, just that it is not required. It is up to your criminal defense lawyer to ensure that you have done enough while out on bond to avoid a prison sentence.
How Will These Charges Affect My Criminal Record?
The bad news is that if you are guilty of the crimes, it is very difficult to avoid felony convictions. The hurdle is the sale charge. Because it is a second degree felony, you are prohibited from getting a withhold of adjudication (no conviction) under Fla. Stat. § 775.08435. Now, there are some exceptions that I have been successful with in the past. Under the statute, you can get a withhold of adjudication if the state attorney requests it in writing or the judge makes written findings that you qualify for one. In reality, if you have been in trouble before, no judge or prosecutor is going to agree to a withhold of adjudication. But, I have been very successful in obtaining these for people with little to no record. Avoiding a felony conviction can protect your record and provide more opportunities in the future. It is something that I am always mindful of, especially when I am representing young people.
How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Cost?
Sale and Possession charges cost at least $5,000 to defend. The total charge will depend on the criminal defense attorney’s assessment of these factors:
- The quantity sold
- The type of drug
- The number of total charges
- Your prior record
- Who the prosecutor is
- Who the judge is
- How much time and effort your case will take
- The amount of risk
What Can a Drug Sale Lawyer Do?
My strategy for defending you depends on the circumstances of the case.
Did They Get the Right Person?
In some cases, the police simply identified the wrong person. I see this happen more often when a CI is involved.
Can They Prove It Was You?
Identification is always the key to these cases. I have had cases where the audio recordings or video are of such poor quality that identification is impossible.
Is the CI Reliable?
If a police officer can independently identify that it was you, the CI doesn’t have to be disclosed. But, many times, the whole case relies on the CI. CIs are unreliable and often will refuse to testify. They can be impeached about their motives. Were they trying to get out of trouble? Were they being paid by the police? There’s usually a lot of ammunition for your defense when a CI is a witness.
Drug Dealer or Drug Problem?
No one is going to feel sorry for a drug dealer. But, most people are simply caught up in the lifestyle and are only just selling to afford their own habit. In these circumstances, I like my clients to get treatment while the case is pending. I have had great success using this approach.
I am always trying to minimize the consequences regardless of whether there’s a defense. Avoiding felony convictions, prison, and jail are always priorities. I also try to avoid long periods of probation where I know my client may violate and end up in prison. My clients know that if they follow my advice, their chances of a good outcome are much better.
Contact a Drug Sales Attorney in Pinellas County
It is very important that you contact a lawyer who specializes in Pinellas County drug sales charges. Even though you may know and trust a lawyer from outside of Pinellas County, I guarantee that your best chance at a good result is with a lawyer who is a regular. I cannot stress enough the benefit that I can provide because I know all of the prosecutors and the judges. I know what they prefer, the way they think, and what they don’t like. If your lawyer doesn’t handle these cases regularly, you are literally walking into an ambush.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation for a drug sale charge in Pinellas County, I encourage you to contact me as soon as possible. These charges are very serious, so you need to get to work on your defense immediately. The more that you can do to help me, the better that I can do for you. My consultations are free of charge. I encourage you to contact me for help.