September 11, 2014

Harmful Effects of the "War on Drugs"

Opposition to the so-called "War on Drugs" isn't new; this poorly executed policy has been receiving condemnation since its inception in 1971 when President Nixon declared drug abuse to be "public enemy number one."
joint.png
The criticism against the bloated crackdown on illegal substances now stems from all walks of life and political affiliations. The issue is getting a lot of attention right now as we approach national midterm elections this November, during which we in Florida will vote on whether or not medical marijuana should be legal and available in the Sunshine State.

Our Palm Beach and Broward County drug crime defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert know that an overhaul of the current drug laws is long overdue. The facts, as we will discuss in this posting, clearly demonstrate that the War on Drugs is doing far more harm than it is good.

Continue reading "Harmful Effects of the "War on Drugs"" »

April 23, 2014

Justice Deptartment to Revise Clemency Criteria

It has long been known that prison sentences for convictions involving crack cocaine us are disproportionately more severe than those involving cocaine in powder form. In recent years, as our criminal defense lawyers know, the Obama Administration has taken a number of steps aimed at lessening the disparity.
restrained-624824-m.jpg
According to an announcement made on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department will, in effect, make it easier for those sentenced for crack cocaine offenses to make clemency appeals. He further announced that, when the new rules go into effect, he expects the number of eligible clemency petitioners to increase significantly.

Continue reading "Justice Deptartment to Revise Clemency Criteria" »

April 9, 2014

Miami Cop Implicated in Cocaine Conspiracy

Our South Florida criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know that law enforcement officers are given the responsibility to enforce the law and to arrest those who don't abide by it; they are not expected to engage in the illegal activity that they're specifically supposed to inhibit.
cocaine-stripes-489547-m.jpg
As this article from CBS news describes, Miami-Dade Police Lt. Ralph Mata, was just recently arrested for and charged with the crime of "aiding and abetting" a cocaine ring.

Members of police departments, such as Officer Mata, due to the nature of their jobs, often come in close contact with individuals engaged in illegal activity for profit: individuals who deal drugs, for example. Some police officers, as we know, take advantage of the access their job provides them to criminal activity, and begin to take matters into their own hands, violating the very rules they are paid to uphold.

Continue reading "Miami Cop Implicated in Cocaine Conspiracy" »

November 15, 2013

Florida Marijuana Initiative Finds Foe in Bondi

Florida's attorney general Pam Bondi is pleading with the state supreme court to block a measure that would legalize medicinal marijuana, should it be allowed on the state ballot next year.
beautifulleaf.jpg
Marijuana advocates have begun circulating a petition that requires 700,000 voter signatures by Feb. 1 in order to ensure a spot. The drive, entitled People United for Medical Marijuana, is poised to succeed where previous efforts have failed. Earlier this year, state lawmakers turned down the opportunity to vote on a statutory change to the law that would allow physicians to prescribe the drug to certain patients under tightly-controlled conditions.

As of today, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that any kind of possession or distribution of the drug is illegal. According to Florida Statute 893.13, the sale, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to do any of these with a Schedule I narcotic (as marijuana is) is a second-degree felony. As such, it's punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Continue reading "Florida Marijuana Initiative Finds Foe in Bondi" »

November 13, 2013

Methamphetamine Arrests in Florida

Criminal drug use in Florida continues to attract national attention – and not in the way residents of the Sunshine State are pleased about. Part of the reason is that, according to federal government statistics, Florida has a significantly higher rate of drug-related deaths than the national average.
meth3.jpg
One drug in particular that has, especially in the last decade, received a great deal of scrutiny is methamphetamine. Just a couple of weeks ago, as reported by the Palm Beach Post, four individuals were arrested by Okeechobee law enforcement officials in three different incidents, all involving methamphetamine.

Our South Florida drug crime defense attorneys know that being arrested for drug use in Florida is a serious issue with serious prospective penalties and that when methamphetamine is tossed into the mix, the stakes are even higher than usual.

Continue reading "Methamphetamine Arrests in Florida" »

October 15, 2013

Broward County Drug Arrests Enrich Local Police

As a nation it seems we are gradually coming to the realization that the 40-year war on drugs has been a colossal failure, pocked with racial prejudice and leaving a legacy of decimated lives and communities.
powder.jpg
And yet, it continues, often with the staunch support of law enforcement agencies (whom, it's worth noting, tend to be very powerful lobbyists when it comes time to lawmaking). They cite the negative impact that drugs can have on an individual, a family and a community.

While there is undoubtedly some truth, our Fort Lauderdale defense lawyers have to question the approach and motivations of police, especially in light of reports like the one that was recently published in the Sun Sentinel.

Continue reading "Broward County Drug Arrests Enrich Local Police" »

August 25, 2013

Coverup of Criminal Investigation Source Could be Problematic for Prosecution

In any criminal case, the way that evidence was found and collected is often just as important - and sometimes even more important - than the evidence itself.
a9speed.jpg
So if our Broward criminal defense attorneys can prove that evidence was improperly gathered, the evidence won't matter because we will work to have it suppressed so that it won't be considered by the court.

However, in order for us to do our job in this regard, law enforcement officials and prosecutors must be forthcoming. The law requires them to do this in the discovery phase of the case. They are forbidden by law from withholding any information that could be beneficial to your case - and that includes information about evidence collection.

This is what makes the revelations of what has been happening with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration all the more disturbing. A recent investigation by news outlet Reuters revealed that federal DEA officials took information received from the National Security Administration's intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, phone record databases and informants, and distributed it to local law enforcement. This information is supposedly gathered for the purposes of protecting our national security Yet, it is being given to the DEA, which is then using it to further domestic criminal investigations.

What's more, the DEA has reportedly been giving pieces of this information to lower-level law enforcement agencies to help further their criminal drug investigations. What's more, the DEA has been directing these lower-level law enforcement agencies to "recreate" an investigative trail, such that the defense lawyers and sometimes even the prosecutors will be kept in the dark about the origins of the evidence.

This is a major, major concern in terms of constitutional rights. The reason is because if a defense lawyer is not aware of how an investigation started, he or she does not know to ask for a review of potential sources of exculpatory evidence. Exculpatory evidence would be evidence that might be favorable to the defendant. This might include evidence of certain biases or entrapment or some other element that could help a defendant in court.

Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011, offered reporters her view on the matter: "It's one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations."

The entire situation is happening under the umbrella of a unit of the DEA called the Special Operations Division. It has roughly two dozen partner agencies, which include the NSA, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and the FBI. Originally, this unit was formed back in the mid-1990s to curb the proliferation of Latin American drug cartels.

Today, we don't know the exact nature of the operations, because the agency is highly secretive. The only reason Reuters knows about the cover-up directives is because internal memos were leaked to reporters.

Former law enforcement officials who spoke anonymously to reporters, indicated it would often work like this:

Someone from the SOD would contact a local law enforcement agency, tell them to be at a certain location at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle. From there, officials would find some reason to stop that vehicle, search it and locate contraband. However, the tip from the SOD was top secret. No mention of it is ever made in any law enforcement documentation. There is evidence that even prosecutors were often unaware of it.

By hiding the origins of a case, law enforcement officials are able to get around established court procedures by which judges privately examine potentially sensitive information. This might include an informant's identity, for example. It also takes away the judge's discretion to determine whether the information is relevant to the defense.

And again, we're talking about information supposedly collected for purposes of national security being used to prosecute those accused of drug-related crimes. That alone is likely a blatant violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unlawful and unwarranted search and seizure.

Continue reading "Coverup of Criminal Investigation Source Could be Problematic for Prosecution" »

August 20, 2013

Drug Sentencing Policy Shift Announced by Federal Authorities

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department have announced a major shift in the overall approach to drug crime sentencing, instructing prosecutors to omit quantity lists for illegal substances for lower-level drug cases.
cocaine.jpg
This in effect will allow defendants to avoid being subjected to strict federal minimum mandatory sentences for those drug-related offenses.

This sounds like sweeping reform.

However, our Fort Lauderdale drug crime defense lawyers understand that, for now anyway, this is really only applicable for cases that are being handled at the federal level. The reality is that the federal government handles a relatively small number of drug offenses, and an even smaller number of low-level drug offenses. The majority of those cases are handled at the state level.

There are about 2 million people behind bars in this country as we speak. Of those, only about 10 percent are in the federal system. And of those, about a quarter, or 90,000 are imprisoned for drug-related offenses.

The reality is that low-level drug offenses - for example, marijuana busts involving fewer than 100 plants or possession arrests for smaller amounts of crack cocaine - aren't typically handled at the federal level.

Of course, we are encouraged by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's about-face. Indeed, it's rare to hear an attorney general talk about the urgency with which we need to address prison overcrowding and the clear and overwhelming racial disparity regarding the prosecution of these drug cases.

But when it comes to state-level drug offenses, which is what you are more likely to be accused of, this change probably won't have much of an impact. In fact, in Holder's introduction of reformed policies, he indicates that more drug cases should be handled at the state level anyway.

Still, Holder did say that widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is ineffective and also unsustainable. The U.S. holds 5 percent of the world's population, and yet is responsible for nearly one quarter of the world's prisoners. This costs taxpayers about $80 billion each year.

Holder also pointed out that black male offenders tend to receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than those imposed on white offenders. He said that non-violent offenders take up the majority of our federal prisons, and that we have reached a critical capacity.

Holder urged federal prosecutors to use more discretion with regard to how certain drug offenders are charged, so as to avoid triggering a minimum mandatory sentence for a non-violent drug offender who is not a major player in the trafficking game. These are offenders who typically have no ties to drug gangs, cartels or international traffickers.

Perhaps the biggest change we will see immediately is that more of these cases will go to trial. Without strict minimum mandatory sentencing, prosecutors will no longer have the same muscle to strong-arm plea deals out of defendants.

Holder said prosecutors should instead focus on reform and drug treatment.

There has also recently been legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate that could give federal judges a wider degree of discretion with regard to sentencing for even high-level drug offenders.

Continue reading "Drug Sentencing Policy Shift Announced by Federal Authorities" »

July 2, 2013

"Bong Ban" in Florida Becomes Law July 1

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed a law that makes it illegal for persons to knowingly and willfully offer or sell any retail drug paraphernalia, aside from pipes comprised mostly of meerschaum, clay, briar or corn cob.
bubblebongwithgrip.jpg
This would mean sales of smoking devices made of glass, acrylic, stone or metal would be illegal.

The law, which takes effect July 1, will make headshop proprietors who sell marijuana pipes, bowls, bongs and the like guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. A second violation of the law is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The statute is an amendment to existing Florida Statute 893.147, which governs the use, possession, manufacturing, delivery, transportation, advertisement and/or retail sale of drug paraphernalia.

Still, our Fort Lauderdale drug crimes defense lawyers don't anticipate a sweeping closure of these establishments anytime soon. The key language in Florida House Bill 0049 is "knowingly and willfully."

As it stands already, stores that sell pipes are already highly regulated under Florida law. Only those stores that make 75 percent of their profits on tobacco products are permitted to also sell pipes, bongs and other smoking devices.

The "knowingly and willingly" clause of the statute means that the store retailer would have to know that you are using the smoking device expressly for the purposes of using illegal drugs. That means if a person never mentions using the device for the purposes of drug use, the seller would assume the intended purpose is to consume tobacco - which is still legal.

As one tobacco and gift shop owner put it, if a customer comes in talking about illegal substances and referencing the use of the device for that purpose, then the store would be breaking the law by selling a pipe or bong to that customer. Otherwise, though, it's essentially business as usual.

Many stores may be able to get around liability on the issue by posting a warning sign at the entrance, noting that any reference made to illegal substances will result in their removal from the store. In a lot of places, that's standard procedure anyway.

The new law is expected to be difficult to enforce. A similar law, struck down in an earlier legislative session, would have been much stricter. That was the reason many headshop operators supported this measure.

The action comes at a time when 70 percent of Floridians have said they would support more progressive marijuana laws, particularly those that would allow for the use and distribution of medical marijuana.

Still at this point, Florida law makes it illegal for anyone to consume or possess marijuana for any purposes, even if they have a valid marijuana prescription in another state.

As for drug paraphernalia laws, Florida Statute 893.147 makes it illegal for anyone to use or possess drug paraphernalia. A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.

A pipe purchased from a tobacco shop wouldn't necessarily be considered drug paraphernalia unless it was lined with illegal drug resin or if it was found in conjunction with illicit drugs or evidence of such substances.

Continue reading ""Bong Ban" in Florida Becomes Law July 1" »

April 16, 2013

South Florida Pill Shipments Could Lead to Drug Arrests

It wasn't long ago that the vast underground network of pain pill distribution from Florida to nearby states was dubbed the "Flamingo Express."
prescriptionbottleblanklabel.jpg
Federal agents have been working hard to crack down, arresting doctors and pharmacists with copious pain prescription rolls, busting so-called pill mills and pursuing suspected street distributors.

Now, our Hollywood drug crimes defense attorneys understand that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has set its sights on the shipping companies. In particular, the agency is gunning for accountability from UPS and FedEx.

Specifically, the DEA is targeting orders of prescription drugs filled by online pharmacies, suggesting that the carriers have a responsibility to screen packages and alert federal officials of potential problems. The DEA says both firms have knowingly shipped illegally-prescribed drugs over the course of the last decade, and have failed to take any decisive action to prevent these shipments.

However, the two firms have had vastly different responses to these probes.

On the one hand, UPS agreed to forfeit $40 million it had previously collected for shipments from online pharmacies. It also settled on the implementation of a corporate compliance program, which essentially amounted to barring online pharmacies from using its services.

FedEx, however, has pushed back - hard. The shipping company said that the kind of controls that the DEA is talking about implementing are not only absurd, they are "disturbing." For starters, such action has the potential to threaten the privacy of its customers, said one spokesperson.

The representative further noted that shipping carriers are not law enforcement. They aren't trained to detect which pills are illegal and which aren't, and doing so would be a time-consuming and costly undertaking.

This investigation is only the latest in a host of those brought by the DEA against doctor's offices or companies that distribute or sell prescription pain medications, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.

In another of these cases, the DEA is squaring off with Walgreens in a criminal federal D.C. courtroom, claiming that the firm's South Florida distribution center has been filling orders for high volumes of prescription painkillers without conducting any kind of internal inquiry about those orders. The firm's distribution center, based in Jupiter, is the top distributor of oxycodone and oxycodone products in the state.

In one case, the DEA reportedly discovered more than 3,200 bottles of oxycodone had been distributed over a 40-day period, despite the fact that the town where the pharmacy was located had just 3,000 residents.

Walgreens has said it is cooperating with the DEA.

Last year, a federal judge in D.C. upheld a similar action from the DEA against a different distribution center in Lakeland.

Even Google hasn't been exempt from the DEA's focus. Last year, the company forked over $500 million in a criminal case, after the U.S. Justice Department had alleged it had knowingly run advertisements from illegal online pharmacies that were based out of the country, but catering to U.S. consumers.

Really, the question comes down to what extent legitimate companies can be held accountable for customer activities.

The only thing that is for certain at this point is that the DEA is not losing steam on this track.

Illegal possession and trafficking of prescription drugs are serious offenses that can carry long-term prison sentences. If you are arrested, consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before offering any statement to law enforcement.

Continue reading "South Florida Pill Shipments Could Lead to Drug Arrests" »

April 4, 2013

Fort Lauderdale TSA Arrests Hotelier for Drugs

He was a multimillionaire hotelier who had been connected romantically to famous women like Lindsay Lohan and Padma Lakshmi.
airport.jpg
Our Fort Lauderdale drug crimes defense lawyers wonder if he believed all that would somehow insulate him from scrutiny as authorities say he attempted to board a commercial flight with a host of controlled substances, including heroin, cocaine, clonazepam, buprenophrine, Xanax, lorazepam, ketamine and marijuana. In all, he faces eight charges, including one for trafficking of heroin and seven more for possession of a controlled substance.

News reports indicate the Dream South Beach Hotel owner was stopped by Transportation Security Administration at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

We can't attest to the validity of the charges, but we do know that far too many people make the mistake of assuming they will have no problem slipping by TSA with drugs or other illegal substances.

The reality is that in the 12 years since 9/11, airport security has gotten unquestionably more adept and aggressive with regard to catching illegal activities. The fact that this individual is a foreign national means he would inevitably garner a greater level of scrutiny.

That's not to say nobody has ever gotten away with it. Getting away with it once or twice might even lead to a false level of confidence that brings about a situation like this. Unfortunately, your rights at the airport are not quite the same as your rights on the streets in terms of stops and searches.

For example, if you are on the street. In your vehicle, you have a degree of reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, an officer may only stop you on the basis of reasonable suspicion. That is, the officer either witnessed a crime or could reasonably infer that a crime was already or is about to be committed. In order to search your vehicle or property, the officer must have probable cause.

Conversely, at the airport, your expectation of privacy significantly diminishes. First of all, you expect that your persons and property will be subject to search before you board the plane by TSA agents.

However, even if you pass through screening without so much as a raised eyebrow, you can be stopped by immigration officers, TSA agents or customs agents at ANY time. They can do this on the basis of your travel itinerary or citizenship or suspicious activity and they have the right to temporarily detain you and search your belongings. These agents may NOT stop you solely on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

These officers have the right to question you with regard to where you are going and what items you may be carrying with you - specifically, weapons and/or drugs. However, your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is still very much in effect. You do not have to answer any questions and you have the right to ask for an attorney.

TSA agents are given a broad range of powers - and they have a well-earned reputation for overstepping their boundaries and abusing it.

Anyone who is arrested for a crime at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport should seek defense counsel immediately, as you could potentially be facing years behind bars. The sooner you get a defense lawyer on your case, the better.

Continue reading "Fort Lauderdale TSA Arrests Hotelier for Drugs" »

March 3, 2013

Florida v. Harris - Police K-9 Powers Affirmed

In a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Florida v. Harris, justices have affirmed the role of drug-sniffing K-9 units during traffic stops. germanshepherd1.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale defense attorneys are disappointed by the decision, but we also know that there may be numerous other opportunities to challenge an officer's probable cause and therefore have certain evidence suppressed.

Some of those other opportunities will be found in situations where police failed to take in the "totality of evidence" standard in their decision to proceed with a non-consent search of a vehicle. That is, a drug-sniffing dog's positive indication of drugs alone may not be enough to warrant a search. The officer must consider the fair probability of the presence of illegal substances based on standards that would dictate how reasonable and prudent people act.

That's a broad standard, but it is not above challenge.

What was at issue in this case was whether police agencies had a responsibility to track the success rates of their trained K-9 units and whether a dog's poor success rate or a failure of police to track it could be used as a basis for suppression of evidence.

The court determined that police agencies have no such obligation. Partially, the court reasoned that to track a dog's field performance wouldn't necessarily reflect all the dog's false negatives or might actually overstate its false positives. The court did concede that such track records may be valuable in certain cases, but it declined to set any hard-and-fast rule. As a result, the high court overturned an earlier decision reached by the Florida Supreme Court.

Given that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that even well-trained dogs get it wrong a fair amount of the time, this is troubling.

In this case, a police officer pulled over a driver during a "routine" traffic stop. The officer reported that the driver was nervous and he was in possession of an open beer can. Still, the driver refused to consent to a search of his vehicle.

The officer responded by having his K-9 narcotic unit conduct an open-air sniff of the vehicle. The dog gave his handler a positive alert near the driver's side door handle. The officer concluded this was enough to carry out a search of the vehicle. The search didn't result in the officer finding anything the dog was actually trained to detect. However, the officer did find chemicals and medicine routinely used to manufacture methamphetamine.

The defendant was arrested, booked and then released on bail. While out on bail, the defendant was again stopped by the same officer, with the same K-9 unit. Once again, the dog alerted to the presence of drugs, yet none were found.

The challenge was that the dog's history of false-positives was enough to warrant a suppression of evidence.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided that the dog's training and testing records was enough to support its reliability.

Continue reading "Florida v. Harris - Police K-9 Powers Affirmed" »

February 3, 2013

Marijuana Remains a Schedule I Narcotic, Per Federal Court Ruling

An effort by a California-based advocacy group in a D.C. federal court for the reclassification of marijuana under federal law has failed. cannabisindica.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know this is likely to have little impact in our state, where the drug is deemed illegal for both medical and recreational purposes. Had the advocacy group been successful, it would have likely meant an overhaul to marijuana laws nationwide.

Undoubtedly, this will not be the last time such an argument is made. Given the rapid progression of the national conversation on the issue, tending now toward favor of legalization, combined with the fact that the D.C. court's decision was split 2-1, we may yet see change in this regard in the coming years.

In the meantime, marijuana will retain its classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic. What this means is that it is deemed on par with heroin and worse than cocaine and even methamphetamine in terms of addiction and its lack of any medically-recognized purpose.

Of course, this classification flies in the face of logic regarding what we know of the drug and the way it is prescribed to ailing patients by hundreds of thousands of medical doctors across the country each year. In all, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use and voters in two states - Washington and Colorado - just recently approved legalization for small amounts for recreational use as well.

Attorneys for the advocacy group contended that federal, state and local authorities are bias against the drug, and routinely exaggerate its dangers while ignoring the potential benefits.

However, lawyers for the Drug Enforcement Administration countered that in order to have accepted medicinal purposes under the law, a drug's effectiveness would have to be tested in a study that was well-conducted, well-designed, well-documented and involved a large number of people. The DEA contended that no such studies exist, and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concurred.

In an interesting opinion penned by the majority, the justices conceded that while marijuana "could" have certain medical benefits, the lack of research on the issue prompted them not to overturn the DEA's current classification.

Of course, this argument rings hollow when you consider that the advocacy group presented evidence of some 200 scientific studies on the drug that point to its medical benefits.

Because of this, the group said it intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Florida, marijuana-related charges carry stiff penalties. This is one state that has not jumped on the bandwagon when it comes to leniency for offenders caught with pot.

For example, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana carries a maximum of 1 year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Any more than that, and is a felony, punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison, with fines of up to $10,000.

Sale of marijuana is even more serious. Selling or distributing less than 20 grams is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, but it also comes with a maximum $10,000 fine. Sale of 25 pounds or less can get you five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Anything above that, you are looking at a minimum three years in prison or a maximum of 30 years, with fines ranging from $5,000 to $200,000.

Even just possessing paraphernalia can result in a 5-year prison term.

And don't forget - a conviction will also mean you'll lose your driver's license for two years.

Continue reading "Marijuana Remains a Schedule I Narcotic, Per Federal Court Ruling" »

January 12, 2013

South Florida Prescription Drug Addictions Continue to Fuel Crimes

Efforts by state and local officials to curb access to illegally-obtained prescription drugs in South Florida have made illicit pill sales a lucrative business for those willing to take the risk. prescriptiondrugcase.jpg

But as our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know, getting caught can come with a steep price. It is critical in these cases to secure an experienced defense team as soon as possible following your arrest.

Recently, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office reported a case out of Boynton Beach, where a married couple combined their efforts to swindle roughly 100 pain pills from two pharmacies. Now, both have been charged with trafficking in Oxycodone.

The investigation began back in September, when the 24-year-old woman called her pharmacy to request a refill on another pain medication. However, the pharmacist told her it was too soon for a refill, and that the doctor would have to approve it. The pharmacist then called the doctor - but the doctor had never heard of the woman. This lead police to get involved, as the prescription was suspected to be fraudulent.

Just a few weeks earlier, the woman's husband had dropped of an Oxycodone prescription for his wife, which he picked up a short time later. In that case, the pharmacist called another doctor to verify the signature. As it turned out, that signature was reportedly fraudulent, as was a similar one dropped off and picked up that same day at another pharmacy.

Cases like this are not isolated in South Florida. Last month, a Lee County woman suspected in a fatal bicycle crash was later arrested by state authorities on charges of prescription fraud in Deerfield Beach. The Sun Sentinel reports that woman obtained some 12,000 prescription pain pills from a total of seven doctors throughout South Florida over the course of a year-and-a-half.

The state began its investigation shortly after the Florida Highway Patrol started its own following a fatal bicycle accident on the Sanibel Causeway. She is suspected of visiting numerous doctors for large prescription pain medication refills in the month prior to the crash.

Even more recently, a dentist from Jupiter was arrested on charges that he wrote phony prescription pain medications for patients, which he later filled himself. The investigation started last month, when a pharmacy called his practice to inquire about conflicting medications prescribed to a patient. But the office manager at the dental practice who fielded that call couldn't find any record of the patient in question. Further, the dentist hadn't been working at that office recently.

Further investigation reportedly revealed numerous prescriptions written in that patient's name.

The dentist has since been charged with fraud and drug trafficking.

Such crimes can be charged federally, but under state law, they fall under Florida Statute 893.135. This law holds that anyone who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, brings into the state or who is knowingly in actual possession of more than four grams of any form of morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, opium or anything similar (as described in Florida Statute 893.03(1)(b) or (2)(a) commits a first-degree felony - punishable by between three and 25 years, depending on the amount of drug found and the extent of the operation.

We understand that addiction can be a powerful force, but we also know that you will need a powerful defense team to defend your chance at a better future.

Continue reading "South Florida Prescription Drug Addictions Continue to Fuel Crimes" »

January 10, 2013

U.S. v. Burgos - Prosecutors Failed to Meet The Burden of Proof

As a team of former prosecutors, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are familiar with the burden of proof that rests with the state. Because we know how prosecutors operate from the inside out, we know how to tear their theories down, and build our client's defense. handcuff2.jpg

The case of U.S. v. Burgos shows the weight of the burden that prosecutors must carry in order to prove their case and secure a criminal conviction. This case involved a cop convicted on drug charges whose conviction was later reversed upon appeal, with the court finding upon review that prosecutors in fact did not meet the minimum requirements necessary to prove their case.

This was a federal case, which means although it was decided in Massachusetts, the findings are applicable in federal courts across the country.

The defendant was specifically convicted of conspiring to distribute marijuana and to possession with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. He was a former uniformed city patrol officer in Massachusetts, and between 2005 and 2009, he was patrolling a particularly high-crime area. The department had dedicated not only patrol units, but also specialized gang and vice squad officers to be a regular presence in the area.

The defendant's brother-in-law worked at a local repair shop, where one of the workers reportedly ran a sizable side business of illegal marijuana sales (estimated to have sold some 2,500 pounds of the drug over the course of those four years).

The defendant reportedly visited the shop often to have his vehicle repaired, and on one occasion, reportedly told his brother-in-law that the site was being watched by investigators. In 2006, the defendant's brother-in-law quit at the shop, and subsequently, the defendant visited less frequently as well. Still, he reportedly maintained a friendship with the co-worker running the marijuana distribution network, and he was given deals on auto repairs.

The co-worker told others that he had the protection of a local officer, though the individual was never mentioned by name. He would later testify it was a bluff, and that the defendant never knew he sold drugs and the two never discussed it. When later arrested on drug distribution charges, he testified he never understood why the officer was arrested along with them.

Further, the investigation into the auto shop worker never focused on the officer and at no time was he under surveillance, although one wiretapped conversation did appear to capture the officer informing the defendant that he was being watched by police.

He was convicted. But at issue upon appeal was an instruction given by the government to the jurors regarding "willful blindness." This is sometimes referred to as ignorance of the law, and the idea in this case was that while the defendant may never have known specifically what illegal substances the auto repair employee was dealing, he nonetheless conspired to help him in his endeavor. In order to prove this, the government would have to show that there was a high probability the defendant knew a conspiracy involving controlled substances existed and that if he didn't know the details, it was because he consciously and deliberately avoided learning them.

However, the appellate court determined that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a conspiracy existed, that the defendant knew about it and that he voluntarily participated in said conspiracy.

His case was remanded back to the lower court for a finding of acquittal.

Continue reading "U.S. v. Burgos - Prosecutors Failed to Meet The Burden of Proof" »

December 20, 2012

Florida Bath Salts Still Prevalent Despite Bans

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have been watching closely as Florida has been at the forefront of the movement to outlaw synthetic marijuana and so-called "bath salts." seasalt.jpg

Despite bans by the federal government, Florida, Broward County and the city of Fort Lauderdale, the drugs remain prevalent due to imports from overseas and the ability of chemists to tweak the ingredients just enough to skirt these laws. It's this element that can also be critical in terms to a defendant's criminal defense.

While we certainly don't encourage anyone to use or sell these substances, particularly given the level of uncertainty that can accompany a drug that hasn't been thoroughly tested, we will encourage those who have been arrested in South Florida for possession or sale to contact a lawyer immediately.

To give you an idea of the scope of the issue, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported in 2010 receiving few more than 300 calls relating to synthetic marijuana. The following year, the agency reported there were more than 6,100 calls regarding these synthetics.

Since a number of laws have been enacted in an effort to curb the availability of these drugs, those calls have fallen to 2,500 calls (as of Oct. 31 of this year). So, while it has fallen off dramatically, that's still a pretty significant number.

Regardless of the name, "bath salts" is a broad term for what is actually synthetic cathinones, which is a substance found in a native east African and Middle Eastern plant that has been barred in the U.S. for many years. Although they are sometimes referred to as synthetic marijuana, they are actually closer to amphetamines in their actual effect.

They are in the same class of drugs as ecstasy - which is part of the problem. They mimic ecstasy and cocaine. By contrast, bath salts are cheap and fairly easy to acquire, despite the bans.

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on House Bill 1175, which replaced Senate Bill 1502 and adds 92 different variations of synthetic marijuana and bath salts (or "spice") to the list of drugs that are illegal in Florida.

Then in July, President Barack Obama signed a federal ban on the substances, and the Drug Enforcement Administration subsequently arrested nearly 100 suspected suppliers and distributors throughout the country. "Operation Log Jam" resulted in the seizure of 5 million packets, materials needed to make nearly 15 million more and $36 million.

Even just simple possession of the substance under 3 grams is considered a high-level misdemeanor.

Then in August, Fort Lauderdale banned the substances as well, requiring that any such product sold in the city has to have a detailed health warning and a clear, accurate list of all ingredients so officers are able to verify whether it contains any substances that are prohibited. Those who violate the city law face up to two months in jail, a $500 fine plus a requirement to cover the city's investigative cost - including for lab tests, which could get quite pricey.

Continue reading "Florida Bath Salts Still Prevalent Despite Bans" »

November 13, 2012

Palm Beach Burglary Investigation Leads to Major Drug Bust

Two West Boca men are facing drug manufacturing charges after officers investigating an alleged burglary found evidence of synthetic marijuana manufacturing. saltinred.jpg

Our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers understand the case started back in August, but didn't result in arrests until late last month.

It will be interesting in this case to see whether defense attorneys will try to suppress evidence obtained during the initial search of the premises, as there was no warrant. Under the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine, all evidence obtained during an illegal search or interrogation may be deemed inadmissible in court. This means not just the evidence obtained in the search or interrogation, but anything discovered as a result.

In this case, the detectives reported they were responding to a burglary at a warehouse just west of Boca Raton. The detectives then entered the warehouse. They did not find any burglars, but they did find evidence of a drug manufacturing operation. Media reports don't indicate who owned the warehouse and whether he or she was the one to call authorities. That could be a crucial point because if he or she did not grant permission to enter the premises, the contents of that initial search could be suppressed.

Once detectives found evidence that individuals were making and packaging synthetic marijuana, they went back to a judge to obtain a formal search warrant for the property.

They then returned in short order and searched the property again, finding six-foot tall bins with clear baggies marked with a label that said "cannabinoid free." Although the labels indicated the product was potpourri, the detective stated in the affidavit that from his experience, potpourri products don't typically contain such a warning.

Investigators also found a machine that is typically used for sealing packets. The packets were labeled with titles such as "Strawberry Blast," "Voodoo" and "Da Bomb." In all, there were some 235 pounds of the substance confiscated from the search.

Detectives sent samples of the contents of those packets, with the tests coming back positive for synthetic marijuana.

Perhaps most damning were the contents of more than a dozen spiral notebooks found on the scene. There were notes allegedly addressed to each defendant, invoices and transaction logs. There were also copies of the defendants' driver's licenses, which led detectives right to their door.

Sale of synthetic marijuana and other substances have already been specifically banned by officials in Broward County. Leaders in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County are mulling similar measures. In Broward, punishment for violation of the county ordinance is a $500 fine and two months in jail. But that measure primarily applies to shop owners who are selling the substance.

Manufacturing of it comes with harsher penalties. Florida Statute 893.13 states that it is unlawful for any person to manufacture, deliver, sell or posses with intent to sell, any controlled substance. To do so, the law states, is a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years of incarceration.

Continue reading "Palm Beach Burglary Investigation Leads to Major Drug Bust" »

November 5, 2012

Florida Nurse Charged With Prescription Drug Fraud

A registered nurse from West Boca is charged with 18 counts of drug trafficking and 19 counts of prescription drug fraud, after pharmacy workers alerted authorities to numerous prescriptions in her name that appeared fraudulent. pill.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that the issue of prescription drug abuse and addiction in Florida has reached epidemic proportions. In recent years, the state earned the nickname, "Oxy Express."

It got so bad that the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was established in 2009, launching full operations last year. Part of that program is Florida Statute 893.055, which requires doctors to report to the agency any time they prescribe a controlled substance, such as Oxycodone, to a patient. The idea is to create a central database that will allow monitors to prevent doctor-shopping.

Measures were also put in place to shut down so-called "pill mills" that illegally prescribe unnecessary medication to either addicts or people who intend to resell the drugs. For example, the state Attorney General's Office enacted a Pill Mill Task Force, which as of this summer had made some 2,150 arrests, including 34 doctors. The task force indicates that 90 of the top 100 doctors known for "pushing" Oxycodone are in Florida.

And deaths resulting from prescription pill overdoses are rampant.

So the issue here, as our Fort Lauderdale defense lawyers see it, is less criminal and more illness related to addiction.

Prescription drug addiction can be a powerful force - one of the few that would explain why a successful registered nurse would put her entire career on the line for 1,500 pills.

That's why, depending on the circumstances of the case, our defense team will focus on trying to get our client into intensive rehabilitative treatment as an alternative to long-term incarceration. Generally, these are individuals who aren't violent and may have little or no prior record. All of their alleged criminal actions were for the purposes of obtaining and using drugs. Sometimes, having an individual enter a substance abuse program prior to trial may positively effect the sentencing stage of the process.

This case is still in the beginning stages.

According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, a pharmacy representative from Palm Springs called after a home health nurse was reportedly obtaining prescriptions for numerous patients written by at least three different doctors.

She was personally covering the insurance co-payments.

Pharmacists merely had a suspicion, but it wasn't until detectives interviewed one of the doctors that they began to build the criminal case. The doctor said he did not recognize the patients names that were reportedly being prescribed the medications, but he did recognize the nurse as a former patient. He noted that the prescriptions on which his name was forged appeared computer-generated, where as he typically gives patients a hand-written, paper slip.

Investigators then interviewed another doctor in West Palm Beach. He too said he didn't recognize the patients' names, but he did recognize the nurse. He said she used to work at the home health care center that shared an office space with his practice. Seemingly, that is how she was able to obtain prescription pads from his office.

While prosecutors are charging her with more than 30 criminal counts, individual charges can also sometimes be consolidated, as they often pertain to a single course of conduct.

Continue reading "Florida Nurse Charged With Prescription Drug Fraud" »

September 16, 2012

New Charges Can Have Serious Consequences for those on Probation in Broward County

A Greenacres man, who had been given a reprieve on drug charges, essentially blew it when he was arrested on domestic violence battery charges recently. pills1.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that police and prosecutors agreed to strike a deal with him, after he was caught manufacturing and trafficking drugs: The chance for a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating against his supplier.

It might have ultimately resulted in a significantly reduced sentence, had it not been for his subsequent arrest for grabbing his girlfriend during an argument.

According to The Sun Sentinel, the defendant had been in and out of jail since 2002, when he was first arrested for resisting a police officer. Since then, he's been arrested seven times.

But now, his past criminal history, combined with the new allegations, has left him facing several years behind bars.

About a month ago, the defendant and a woman checked into a motel room in Lantana. While there was nothing inherently suspicious about the pair, but then the front desk received an anonymous call.

That caller reportedly told the front desk the names of the two individuals, and said they had checked in with a boatload of drugs and weapons.

An off-duty police officer who was working a detail at the hotel was given the information. He verified the names of the two individuals who had checked in. He then knocked on the door and informed the man who answered of the call that had been received.

The man invited the officer in the room and the officer immediately noted a bag of marijuana on the bed. The defendant confirmed it was marijuana, but said there was nothing else in the room. He offered to let the officer search.

What he found was damning: four pounds of various drugs, including cocaine, Xanax, Oxycodone, Ecstacy and Hydrocodone. He also found a suitcase that had several vials of a mystery substance that was labeled, "Merida." He also had bottles of Vitamin B, which is often used to mix with cocaine. there was also a digital scale, a marijuana grinder - and a drug ledger, detailing names, phone numbers and various details of prior drug deals.

Additionally, the officer found a handgun.

The man said he had never seen the gun before, and the woman admitted it was hers, saying she bought it from a friend and the man never knew it was in the room. He told the officer he had to deal drugs in order to support his six children.

At this point, we must wonder about the officer's characterization of the room search as "voluntary." If the search was not conducted in accordance with the law, an experienced defense attorney may be successful in having the charges dismissed. The man was arrested. However, when detectives became aware of his connections, he reportedly agreed to turn state's evidence.

This is a dangerous proposition, and not possible - or advisable - in every case. But it can be a valuable bargaining chip for someone facing serious time in prison. No "deal" should ever be accepted without consultation with you defense attorney.

Now, with his most recent arrest on domestic violence battery hanging over his head, as well as a news story detailing the deal he tried to make, it's unlikely he will be of any use as a confidential informant.

Continue reading "New Charges Can Have Serious Consequences for those on Probation in Broward County" »

September 12, 2012

Fort Lauderdale Criminalizes Sale of Bath Salts, Fake Pot

Fort Lauderdale has now joined a growing number of Florida cities that have worked to ban synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other similar substances from being sold, possessed or consumed. cocainestrips.jpg

Broward criminal defense lawyers understand that similar bans exist in Miami-Dade, Sweetwater and Sunrise. Additionally, the governor last year issued a statewide ban on bath salts, but the issue is that many companies have ever-so-slightly altered the chemical make-up of their products, allowing them to technically skirt the law.

The new measure passed in Fort Lauderdale encompasses products commonly referred to on the street as "Spice," or "Vanilla Sky" or "Purple Wave." Although the packets, which are often sold in drug stores, specifically indicate they are not for human consumption, ingestion is typically the main purpose of buyers. They are smoked, inhaled and sometimes snorted.

The local ordinance prohibits the sale, delivery or possession of "herbal incense, synthetic marijuana or bath salt product" which may contain either illegal compounds or may mimic the effects of those compounds.

Typically, the packets don't contain any sort of ingredient label, but under the new measure, all products have to have the ingredients listed on the label. Typically, bath salts are a cocktail of chemicals such as mephedrone, pyrovalerone and methylenedioxypryovarelone (MDPV for short). Requiring the products to list their ingredients, officials say, will allow officers to easily check for possible substances that are prohibited.

Anyone who violates the new rule could face a fine of up to $500 and up to 2 months in jail. They would also have to pay for the city's lab testing, investigation and prosecution costs.

It's a tricky area when you have a substance that may be legal in one municipality, but not others nearby. What is legally sold and possessed a block over suddenly becomes illegal when you cross the street.

Synthetic drugs are at the center of a case involving an Oakland Park man, who is on probation for possessing a sleeping pill without a prescription. He is reportedly facing a five-year prison term for violating the terms of his probation after he was found to have tested positive for consumption of synthetic marijuana.

But here's the issue: the compound he purchased was legal both when he purchased it and when he allegedly used it. Despite a current state and now local ban, the question is whether the state can retroactively hold someone responsible for something that was legal at the time. The answer is likely no, though prosecutors have yet to drop the charges.

The man had told a reporter that because he had purchased the drug at a local gas station, he didn't believe he was doing anything wrong. And he's likely right.

In a related case, the distributor of a synthetic marijuana product called, "Mr. Nice Guy" has pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute. He is working to get a lesser sentence by cooperating with authorities in reportedly leading them to individuals who reportedly manufacture the substance locally. His information has led to three other recent arrests. Prosecutors say they will likely ask him to testify against the others, though he could still receive as much as 10 months behind bars.

Continue reading "Fort Lauderdale Criminalizes Sale of Bath Salts, Fake Pot" »

April 13, 2012

Broward Criminal Defense: Pill Mill Operator Pleads Guilty

A Davie man, identified in media reports as a "pill mill magnate," has pleaded guilty to a host of drug charges in Broward County, and could serve as much as two decades behind bars.
1213599_pills.jpg
Our Broward County criminal defense attorneys know that federal, state and local officials have been on a war path when it comes to pain clinics across the state. A great deal of press has been given to the "epidemic" of prescription pain killer addiction, and officials have used the term "pill mills" to describe even legal clinics working to serve patients with legitimate pain issues.

While the patients themselves have been the target of many law enforcement efforts, the owners and operators of these clinics have also found themselves in the legal cross hairs of prosecutors.

In this case, a 43-year-old pain clinic operator has pleaded guilty to a host of crimes, including money laundering and tax fraud. In exchange for his testimony against other individuals in the case, prosecutors have agreed to a stiff, 20-year sentence, which could wind up being less depending on how useful his testimony proves.

Prosecutors alleged that among several clinics in Miami-Dade and Broward, he dispensed nearly 700,000 oxycodone pain tablets, raking in a profit of roughly $22 million between 2008 and 2011. In order to bring in patients, the operator reportedly purchased and ran some 1,600 websites. Customers were made to pay in cash, with a payment of $250 for the first visit and $200 for each subsequent visit. Patients who were coming in from out of state had to pay higher rates.

In some instances, patients were made to undergo MRI tests for between $100 and $500. These tests, according to prosecutors, weren't medically legitimate, but rather a scam which would give patients VIP status in obtaining pills. It's also alleged that staff at the clinics forged urine tests that would validate a patient's need for the prescriptions.

The clinic operator reportedly posted advertisements for doctors on Craigslist, retaining only those who were on board with plans to prescribe large quantities of pills.

Defense attorneys had argued that the clinic operator rarely was involved with the day-to-day operations of the clinic, and had hired what he believed to be a capable management staff.

Many local municipalities and counties have passed recent legislation, limiting the number of pain clinics that can operate in a given area and restricting the qualifications for owners and the scope of the operation.

Then last year, the state legislature passed HB 7095. This measure outlined the following guidelines for pain clinic operators:

-Toughened the regulations for writing prescriptions and pain-treatment plans;

-Doctors who over-prescribe pain medications are slapped with a base fine of $10,000 and a six-month license suspension;

-Mandated that doctors use prescription pads that are either counterfeit-proof or electronic. The tablets have to be purchased from a state-approved vendor, which is then required to report those sales each month;

-Made it a high-level misdemeanor for a pharmacist to not report to police a person who is trying to buy prescription drugs under false pretenses;

-Requires pharmacies to report prescription information to the state within a week, rather than two weeks, as they did previously;

-Wholesale pill companies have to report their sales to the state;

-Doctors who work at pain management clinics have to let the state know when they start working at the clinic and when they stop;

-Gave law enforcement the authority to search clinic records without a search warrant.

These overly-broad measures are no doubt going to lead to violations of privacy and an increase in the number of individuals who are arrested for Broward prescription drug crimes.

Continue reading "Broward Criminal Defense: Pill Mill Operator Pleads Guilty" »

January 10, 2012

South Florida Drug-Sniffing Dog Case Goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear a Miami case and decide whether police drug-sniffing dogs can be used to lead to searches even without evidence of criminal conduct.

This is a major Fourth Amendment issue that our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys will be following closely. Fort Lauderdale drug cases are serious crimes and the evidence that police attempt to bring into a case must be thoroughly scrutinized.
sniff.bmp
In a Florida court case that will affect all future and possibly past defendants, the nation's high court will now make a determination about whether this police tool violates citizen's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

This case started in Miami, where police got a tip that a house was being used for growing marijuana. They took a drug-sniffing dog to the house and the dog sat down, which it is trained to do when it smells drugs. Based on that information, police obtained a search warrant and found 179 marijuana plants inside the house.

This is a real subjective law enforcement tool. Dogs recently hit on Snoop Dogg's tour bus in Texas. The man has spent a decade talking about the benefits of marijuana and has a medical marijuana card in California. A fish swimming in an aquarium could have "hit" on his tour bus.

It can be little more than an excuse for law enforcement to go on a fishing expedition.

In this case on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the evidence, stating that they were unwilling to allow dog sniff tests unless police had probable cause of criminal activity ahead of time. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, agreed to listen to the case after Florida prosecutors argued that a dog sniffing for drugs shouldn't be classified as a "search."

Eighteen states have backed Florida prosecutors' appeal, stating that drug dogs are an important tool for police fighting drug crimes in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere. The high court typically sides with police in search cases, though not always.

Justices will hear argument on the case in April and have said they will make a ruling on drug-sniffing dogs by June. The case is Florida v. Jardines.

Any case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have major implications on people everywhere. Simply because it is a case stemming from Florida doesn't mean that it will affect only Florida law enforcement agencies. It will affect every police agency and citizen.

This case is interesting because it goes to the root of our very rights as citizens. The Fourth Amendment was written so that police couldn't simply break into a person's house, without justification, and look for a reason to arrest a person. That is a terrifying thought. Apparently law enforcement thinks its okay to do so as long as they are with a dog?

People have the right not to have that happen, under any circumstances. The interesting thing about this case is that it deals with the tactics police use to obtain a search warrant from a judge. It also could affect the future of the use of drug-sniffing dogs, not only by police, but also bomb-sniffing dogs at airports and other venues.

The Florida Supreme Court was willing to uphold citizens' rights, preventing them from being searched by police officers who don't have any clear evidence. But it remains to be seen what the U.S. Supreme Court does. These justices tend to side with police, but how can they allow officers to have little or no evidence before busting into people's homes?

Continue reading "South Florida Drug-Sniffing Dog Case Goes to U.S. Supreme Court" »

November 27, 2011

Immigration Woes Can Stem From Even Minor West Palm Beach Drug Crimes, Moncrieffe v. Holder, Jr. Shows

A recent court case out of Georgia shows that immigration status must be taken into consideration by an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer.

Past court cases have revealed that defendants -- whether they are legal citizens or not -- must be told about the consequences of entering into a plea deal regarding their immigration status. It's often assumed that going to trial and losing could subject someone to deportation. But every time a plea agreement is reached, defendants are read these warnings.
540325_plantator.jpg
The case of Moncrieffe v. Holder, Jr. shows us that this is an important issue, even in a seemingly minor West Palm Beach drug case.

In the Moncrieffe case, the defendant entered the country as a permanent resident in 1984 when he was 3 years old. In 2008, he pled guilty to a charge of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute under Georgia law. He was sentenced to five years probation after entering his guilty plea.

After his conviction, the Department of Homeland Security charged him with being removable from the country, according to court records. At an immigration hearing, a copy of the conviction was produced. He appealed the ruling, hoping that an appeals court would overturn.

On appeal, he argued that the Georgia crime shouldn't be considered an "aggravated felony" under federal law that enables a person to be removed for immigration reasons. He argued that under Georgia law, acts are punished as equivalent to a misdemeanor as related to the Controlled Substances Act.

The document produced in immigration court didn't show how much marijuana the man possessed at the time he was arrested. Moncrieffe said that because the government wasn't able to prove he had more than a small amount of marijuana, the conviction should be considered a federal misdemeanor.

The appeals court admitted that other courts are split on how to handle such cases. Courts in the Northeast have considered cases where they don't know how much of a drug there is to be misdemeanors. Other courts have ruled that it doesn't matter and they should be considered felonies under federal law that allow for deportation.

This court looked at the facts and ruled that this case should be considered a "drug trafficking crime" and an "aggravated felony." Because the man didn't prove how much marijuana was involved, the court wouldn't be swayed that it should consider the charge a misdemeanor for immigration purposes.

This is the opposite situation that would happen in a criminal case. Defendants have the right not to say anything or present a defense, whereas the prosecution has the great burden of proving the charges beyond all reasonable doubt.

But a defendant who is an immigrant has more on the line than a defendant who is a citizen. They could face deportation, which is why fighting the charges are so important. Whether a minor drug charge, a theft charge or an assault or battery, the charges must be taken seriously.

Continue reading "Immigration Woes Can Stem From Even Minor West Palm Beach Drug Crimes, Moncrieffe v. Holder, Jr. Shows" »

November 9, 2011

Two Decades Later, Broward Drug Court a Shining Example of Helping Defendants

The criminal justice typically isn't forgiving. Let's face it: The court system It is designed to punish -- not really help -- those who are convicted of a crime.
866036_ir_hemp_leaf.jpg
But in Broward County drug cases, the system is a little different. There are opportunities for people charged with drug offenses to be handed help instead of a long sentence behind bars. And as Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, Broward County's Drug Court is one area where the criminal justice system shines.

Many defendants charged with drug offenses are simply addicted to the drug and can't find a way to live without it. But instead of locking them up in a prison with violent offenders, it makes a lot of sense to try to help them get over their addiction through accountability, treatment and a support group. Many of these people have no other support or help offered to them. They may be addicted to drugs, and for some, it's likely they have no family or friends to reach out to them.

Most of them can't hold down a job because of the drug problem they have been arrested for. But the problem doesn't go away simply by putting someone in a jail cell. In fact, it's more expensive to house them long-term in a prison than to provide a way out.

The Sun Sentinel recently wrote about how Broward County Drug Court was turning 20 and still has maintained itself as a model for other programs regionally and statewide. Each year, 1,000 people graduate from drug court having met the requirements of group counseling for nine months, drug testing and other things to keep them clean. It costs $1,000 to put a person through drug court for the $24,000 it costs a person to be housed in jail for the same period.

The program started as a gamble with little money. Many defendants failed out of the program and were re-arrested. But officials pursued it and continued trying to make it work. Eventually, they made the necessary changes and it is a success.

Many people have gone through the program without a conviction for a drug offense, but with the tools to get out from a bad situation. This is one program that works and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys hope that officials can figure out other programs that can help up front rather than simply put people into a cell for years at a time.

The debate is ongoing about whether spending money on the upfront costs of treatment and job skills is more important than spending billions on jails and prisons. Many county jails in Florida have had ongoing expansions to keep up with the rise in inmates. But an alternative would be to invest some of that money into programs to help people improve their lives.

If convicts can learn skills, get education and improve themselves, then they will be less likely to resort to crime. It takes an investment and in many cases, the local community is all that is around to help.

Continue reading "Two Decades Later, Broward Drug Court a Shining Example of Helping Defendants" »

September 14, 2011

TSA Agents From Palm Beach International Arrested in Drug Case

Three TSA agents -- including two who work at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Fla. -- have been arrested in connection with an alleged scam in which they took bribes and let people smuggle painkillers and cash, The New York Times reports.

Drug cases in West Palm Beach and throughout South Florida can take on extreme penalties, especially if federal prosecutors are involved. Drug cases can be charged either in state or federal court, usually depending on the severity of the allegations and the defendant's criminal record, if any.
802199_check_in.jpg
Defendants facing these charges must be well-represented because the possible prison time can increase as prosecutors file more and more charges. That's why hiring a West Palm Beach Drug Defense Attorney with years of experience both as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense attorney can make a big difference.

According to The Times article, the Transportation Security Administration workers now face charges of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone. The officers were among 20 people arrested following a five-month investigation, the newspaper reports.

The pills were carried from Florida -- known for its problem with prescription pill distribution -- and Connecticut. Two other officers -- a Westchester County, N.Y., police officer and Florida Highway Patrol trooper -- were also charged in the case.

Prosecutors allege that the TSA officers were paid $500 every time they let couriers travel through a security checkpoint at the West Palm Beach and Westchester County airports. The couriers smuggled as many as 8,000 pills per trip, as well as cash.The Westchester airport is just minutes away from Connecticut.

In one wire-taped conversation between an undercover witness and one of the defendants, one of the TSA officers was asked how best to smuggle a gun through the security checkpoint at the New York airport. In another incident, one of the TSA officers halted the questioning of a man with $100,000 in cash by other officers.

When law enforcement agencies take on huge investigations that end in the arrests of many people, it is often possible that charges against some of the defendants -- usually the least involved -- are trumped up in order for authorities to have their dog-and-pony-show press conferences for the media.

Often, once the case begins progressing, an experienced West Palm Beach Defense Attorney can weed through the bogus charges to decipher the facts, and then separate them from the fiction provided by the law enforcement agency.

But in these larger-scale cases, there are bound to be opportunities for plea deals. And while most defendants don't want to discuss the possibility if they believe they are innocent, this may be a strategy worth exploring. Here's why: When the state charges several people as part of a larger conspiracy, a favorable outcome for the state typically won't occur with police witnesses alone. To solidify a case against ringleaders, the state must have defendants who agree to testify for the prosecution. And because the state often is so willing to make this happen, its attorneys offer unbeatable plea deals to defendants. In some cases, if a defendant is facing a decade or more in prison if convicted, he or she might agree that spending two years -- or about 85 percent of two years based on Florida's rules for prisoners -- is a deal worth taking.

Then again, if there is strong evidence that the person did not commit the alleged crime, perhaps the deal isn't worthwhile. Or maybe holding out can help the person avoid a felony, have adjudication withheld, or minimize prison time and serve a probation sentence.

An experienced lawyer will be able to get the best deal not by being the first to jump at the state's offer, but the attorney who presents the most compelling argument that the facts against his or her client do not match up to a conviction.

Continue reading "TSA Agents From Palm Beach International Arrested in Drug Case" »

August 24, 2011

VA Medical Center Raid Nets 17 Arrests for Drugs in Riviera Beach

Seventeen people were arrested recently after authorities raided the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Riviera Beach, The Palm Beach Post reports.

The newspaper says that the arrest of a man for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone led to detectives working on a 7-month investigation. The investigation resulted in a dozen arrests and charges of unlawful drug distribution based out of the clinic.
1213599_pills.jpg
Drug charges in West Palm Beach and throughout South Florida can range from minor possession cases to large-scale distribution and conspiracy cases. Likewise is the possible range of penalty. The sanctions can be as simple as a few months in jail if convicted to decades in prison. The type of charge depends on the type of drug, the quantity and where it is being sold.

An experienced Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to look at all aspects of the evidence and challenge all aspects of the case. With decades of experience as a prosecutor, our West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyers understand how these cases are handled and what tactics the state uses in prosecuting them.

According to the news report, agents found 5,000 oxycodone pills in a safe at a 52-year-old Jupiter woman's house. She was a controlled substance technician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to an arrest affidavit.

Authorities allege that the woman was ordering the pills and allowing her son to sell them. Sixteen other people were also arrested as part of the undercover investigation into illegal drug sales. Warrants were also issued for four other people.

Those in custody are medical center employees, veterans and associates, authorities said. Most arrested face charges of sale of oxycodone or sale of marijuana. In some cases, veterans are charged with selling drugs to make money. More than 6,000 oxycodone pills were seized, along with $200,000 in cash and two vehicles.

What must be considered in cases like this is how credible the information gained from potential co-defendants is. When several people are charged with a crime, many will jump to make a deal with the state in exchange for a lesser prison sentence or sometimes no charges at all. This also goes for people whom the state doesn't charge and agrees to not charge if they testify for the prosecution.

In either of these cases, people are being given a benefit to tell a story that is pleasing to the prosecution. If they vary at all, even if it's not 100 percent truthful, they can see the consequences -- a lost plea deal or charges being filed. For this reason, their testimony should be seen as questionable.

In Fort Lauderdale drug cases, in particular, police officers will use confidential informants to try to nab other people. Informants are former drug dealers or buyers who agree with police to work with them to net arrests for the department. But in many cases, these people set up drug deals, which can lead to entrapment. That means a person wouldn't normally have committed a crime if not enticed, or trapped, by law enforcement.

There are many factors to take into consideration in cases like this and the complexity requires the experience of a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney, who can work to uphold the rights of the accused.

Continue reading "VA Medical Center Raid Nets 17 Arrests for Drugs in Riviera Beach" »

July 27, 2011

Drug Court Hits 20th Anniversary of Helping Defendants in Fort Lauderdale

Broward County Drug Court acknowledged more than 10,000 graduates over 20 years at a celebration recently, the Sun-Sentinel reported, marking a huge milestone for a very important program.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorneys believe drug court is a great alternative to by-the-book penalties and sentencing because it allows people to have a second chance in life. While drug court relies mostly on the defendant to want to get help after they are arrested on drug charges in Fort Lauderdale and throughout South Florida, an experienced attorney should be hired in order to help get them into the program.
mllL1wO.jpg

Drug Court helps nonviolent people who buy or possess small amounts of drugs like cocaine or oxycodone.They must stay clean for a year and participate in intensive counseling, treatment, rehabilitation, acupuncture and random urine testing, the newspaper reported. Completing Drug Court enables them to avoid a conviction and a prison term, or, if already convicted, successfully complete probation.

The county's Drug Court, which started in July 1991, falls under the Broward Sheriff's Office. It has three, three-month phases participants must complete. There are group counseling, drug tests, and whatever other measures the judge deems necessary.

Officials laud it as a cost saver, saying it costs taxpayers $954 per client for a year of Drug Court, compared with $24,000 to send someone to county jail. The court graduates about 1,000 people a year and the recidivism rate after two years is about 2 in 10.

While some people like it for the cost savings, we like it because it works and it helps people stay clean. This can be a great program for young offenders and people who may be getting into drugs for the first time. The program is designed to help keep people clean and steer them away from using drugs.

But getting into the program is no guarantee. There are standards for those who are allowed to participate and sometimes prosecutors want to seek harsh penalties of jail or prison time for people arrested on drug charges.

A Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney can be necessary to negotiate with the state and prove that the client deserves a chance to succeed in the program. And that needs to take place early on in the process. That's why quickly consulting with an attorney is advantageous for someone facing these charges.

Drug court is the best way to avoid jail or prison, if the defendant is willing to work on their drug problem and get help. Consulting with an attorney to determine whether or not this is a fit for the client may be as important as getting the client into drug court. That's because a failure in drug court could subject the defendant to the penalties -- fines, fees, jail time, probation and other sanctions -- they would face in the criminal justice system.

Continue reading "Drug Court Hits 20th Anniversary of Helping Defendants in Fort Lauderdale" »

July 10, 2011

31 Years On the Run Ends With 5-Year Prison Sentence After West Palm Beach Drug Arrest

A member of the Miami Black Tuna Gang spent the last 31 years on the lam, but he was recently captured and sent to prison for five years on a charge of marijuana smuggling, The Miami Herald reports.

West Palm Beach Drug Defense Lawyers have the experience to handle any drug charge in South Florida, whether it be for manufacturing drugs, possessing drugs, selling drugs or trafficking drugs. West Palm Beach drug possession charges carry tough penalties, up to decades in prison, and require a diligent defense law team.
48715_marijuana_plants_growing_outdo.jpg

The Black Tuna Gang was a marijuana smuggling organization active in the 1970s in Miami. The group allegedly smuggled in about 500 tons of marijuana in a 16-month period before the DEA and FBI brought them down.

This defendant was convicted in 1980 of racketeering and possession and distribution of marijuana. He left his trial in 1979 and spent years in Chile, Europe and New York City before settling in a rented apartment at the Century Village seniors community in West Palm Beach.

In 1997, the defendant was convicted in North Carolina and sentenced to five years in prison for a failed marijuana run but never served the term because of his indictment in Miami. While prosecutors were seeking 15 years, his attorneys argued he was a peripheral member of the gang. He was busted after a boat carrying 40,000 pounds of marijuana ran aground off the Bahamas because drunken crew members began cooking steaks and started a fire aboard the boat.

Depending on the weight of the drugs, where they are being sold, purchased or manufactured and a defendant's criminal history, the potential sentence can vary greatly. Hiring a lawyer who has been a state prosecutor and who has handled scores of drug cases over two decades can be advantageous to a defendant.

A defense attorney must have all the latest tools to be able to suppress a defendant's statement from being introduced as evidence before a jury and to suppress evidence police collect if officers don't follow procedures or don't have probable cause in the first place to make an arrest. Keeping this evidence out of a defendant's case is critical.

Having the knowledge to file those and other motions and being committed to aggressively defending a client's case is what we pride ourselves on doing. Our firm will extensively study the case, discuss options with the client and figure out the best resolution. That may mean a plea offer from the state that we consider, going to trial, or, in the best case scenario, getting the charges dropped after getting evidence kicked out.

Don't feel like your lawyer isn't doing enough to defend you and your rights. We work with clients to make sure they are well-informed, up-to-date on hearings and motions and apprised of all the details of their case. Before you do anything else, set up a free consultation today.

Continue reading "31 Years On the Run Ends With 5-Year Prison Sentence After West Palm Beach Drug Arrest" »

June 8, 2011

Miami Cop Arrested by FBI on Drug Charge

IA Miami police officer was arrested recently by the FBI and charged with carrying cocaine and marijuana he seized from a dealer during a bust last year, The Miami Herald reports.

The story shows that anyone can get caught up in a bad drug possession charge in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere in South Florida. If a police officer, sworn to uphold the law, can be charged, so can anyone else. That's why Fort Lauderdale Defense Attorneys, former prosecutors who understand how the state prosecutes cases, have spent years defending people who deserve a second chance.
12754_hand_cuffs.jpg
According to the newspaper, the six-year police veteran who worked in the department's crime suppression unit, was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. According to the story, the officer kept the drugs in his police cruiser and used drugs and cash seized during a raid to pay off confidential informants.

Florida law has many drug possession charges on the books, so the specific details of a defendant's case is the only way to know for sure what kind of punishment they may face. Depending on the weight of the drugs, the type of drugs and whether the person may be carrying a weapon when they were arrested are all potential factors in how the state pursues the case.

The type of drug can determine whether a defendant is charged with a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a misdemeanor, which can put someone in jail for up to a year.

The weight of the drug will determine whether a person is charged simply with possession of the drug or possession with intent to distribute, which can enhance the sentence. Drug trafficking in Florida (Florida Statutes 893.135) allows for a charge of a first-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The penalties alone, not withstanding the potential for someone's career and reputation to be ruined, are reasons to seek an experienced law firm of attorneys who are skilled at fighting these types of charges.

In cases where confidential informants are used, it's possible that an entrapment defense can be used. Sometimes, the use of informants require defense attorneys to spend a lot of time questioning the credibility of the informant, who is usually a drug dealer turned witness. These people can't typically be trusted.

Police officers sometimes bungle evidence or violate a person's rights in the midst of a drug investigation. All of these factors are possibilities to get the charges dropped. So, if you are arrested for a drug charge, don't speak with police until you have contacted Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyers so your rights are preserved.

Continue reading "Miami Cop Arrested by FBI on Drug Charge" »

March 25, 2011

Drug Charges involving Pill Mill Allegations in Broward and Palm Beach need Aggressive Defense

A doctor is facing drug charges in Broward County in connection with another pill mill case, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand the stakes are high when a medical professional faces fraud or drug-related charges. A conviction can mean the loss of a medical license and the inability to earn a living for which a doctor, pharmacist or medical professional has spent a decade or longer in training. Too often, these cases skirt the line between alleged criminal activity and what should remain confidential doctor-patient information.
1156714_perscription_drug_case.jpg
Unfortunately, doctors and other professionals rarely have the experience with the criminal justice system that is often necessary in order to act in their own best interests. Too often, they agree to talk to investigators in an effort to clear up a misunderstanding and/or get themselves out of trouble. In reality, the best move is to consult with an experienced lawyer as soon as you determine you are the target of such an investigation. These are complex cases. Do not trust your future and your livelihood to someone whose job is to collect evidence of your guilt.

The 57-year-old Miami doctor is charged with conspiracy and dispensing and distributing controlled substances. The allegations are in connection with his work for Primary Care Primary Care Practitioners and Associates of West Palm Beach Inc. and Primary Care Practitioners and Associates Inc. in Hallandale Beach.

Police say he was paid $5,000 to visit the clinics several times a month and sign blank prescriptions. Employees would then issue the prescriptions to patients without the doctor being present. Authorities allege the clinics handed out prescriptions for more than 300,000 pills during the last 5 years, including Oxycodone and alprazolam.

Scrutiny of a doctor's dispensing of pain medication is likely to continue. The Sun-Sentinel reports Palm Beach politicians are looking at toughening restrictions of pain clinics and other drug dispensing facilities.

The Palm Beach Post reports Gov. Scott has earmarked $800,000 to beef up enforcement even as he has come out against a database that would track such prescriptions.

Nationwide, authorities point to South Florida as the capital of pain clinics, or so-called pill mills. The Miami Herald tells the story of a man released from prison in 2004 after serving time for trafficking in heroin and cocaine, only to build a string of seven pain clinics selling $150,000 a day worth of prescription narcotics.

Yet prescribing pain medication and selling illegal narcotics are worlds apart. The problems arise when law enforcement treats them as one and the same.

Continue reading "Drug Charges involving Pill Mill Allegations in Broward and Palm Beach need Aggressive Defense" »

March 19, 2011

Spring Break Arrests on the Rise in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami

With Spring Break in full swing, our criminal defense lawyers in Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale remind vacationers, tourist and residents that increased enforcement can often lead to unfair arrest.

Drunk driving charges in Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach will be quite common through the end of the special enforcement period on April 3. Other common charges include underage consumption, drug charges, sex charges and charges of assault and battery.
830590_model_in_the_northsea.jpg
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is reporting the cost of a drunk driving conviction can be as high as $20,000, including jail time, probation, mandatory treatment, loss of your driver's license and skyrocketing insurance premiums. We understand the cost and inconvenience associated with a criminal case, particularly for college students and out-of-state residents, and we work with tourists and young adults to minimize the disruption and the impact on their lives.

"The Florida Highway Patrol isn’t against having a good time. We just want spring breakers to celebrate safely so that no one has to go home in a body bag," said Patrol Captain Mark Welch. “FHP does not tolerate impaired driving, so drive sober and drive safe.”

About one-third of fatal accidents in Florida are blamed on drunk drivers -- and more of those crashes (224) occurred in March of 2009 than in any other month. While most drivers face drunk driving charges for a blood-alcohol threshold of .08 or above, those underage can face charges and the suspension of their driver's license for testing just .02.

The Miami Herald reports law enforcement have promised stepped-up enforcement efforts after last year saw a double-stabbing and shooting in South Beach amid reports of couples having sex in condo hallways.

Through the first two weeks of March -- with three weeks left in the special enforcement period -- police had already made 71 arrests and searched 1,630 coolers, which they can only do with probable cause or your permission.

Continue reading "Spring Break Arrests on the Rise in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami" »

March 10, 2011

Tea drugs or alcohol: Best defense of DUI charges in Palm Beach is an aggressive defense attorney

When authorities found an ex-con behind the wheel, behaving in a manner they felt was erratic, they arrested him, despite his contentions that all he had to drink was kava tea, the Palm Beach Post reported.

It wasn't until a judge heard the case that the charges against the 46-year-old man were dropped -- but by then he'd spent eight months in jail on a probation violation. It's a cautionary tale about the need for an experienced and aggressive West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer whenever you are facing charges of drunk driving in Broward or Palm Beach counties. And about the need to keep charges off your criminal record in order to avoid the consequences of a probation violation.
1286100_coffee.jpg
Too often, defendants hear probation and they take the deal. It's worth mentioning that all of Lindsay Lohan's legal problems stem from probation violations in the wake of a 2007 drunk driving conviction. In fact, it's not unusual for a defendant with experience in the criminal justice system to request jail time rather than to attempt to comply with the terms and conditions of a lengthy period of probation.

A breathalyzer showed no alcohol in the defendant's system. He was not given the benefit of the doubt, in part because of an old burglary and cocaine possession conviction. He told police all he'd had to drink was kava tea. It's not the first time authorities have attempted to charge someone with driving under the influence of the tea, which is a natural herb used by Pacific Islanders. It's being sold in an increasing number of trendy bars in South Florida.

The Food and Drug Administration reports the tea is touted for its ability to relieve anxiety, insomnia and symptoms of menopause. There are currently at least three Kava bars operating in Palm Beach County.

Tea aside, authorities are becoming more aggressive in making arrests for driving under the influence of drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported late last year that 1 in 5 of the fatally injured drivers tested for drugs in 2009, tested positive for the presence of narcotics. As a result, they are encouraging officers to crackdown on drivers driving under the influence of both illegal and prescription narcotics.

"Every driver on the road has a personal responsibility to operate his or her vehicle with full and uncompromised attention on the driving task," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "Today’s report provides a warning signal that too many Americans are driving after having taken drugs, not realizing the potential for putting themselves and others on the highway at risk."

The problem here is that many narcotics remain in a person's system for days or even weeks after consumption. Marijuana, for instance, can remain behind for up to 30 days -- long past the point where a driver's skills are impacted. Even Strickland was forced to acknowledge that: "Drug involvement does not necessarily imply impairment or indicate that drug use was the cause of the crash."

But it may be enough to lead to unfair or unwarranted charged of driving under the influence in South Florida.

Continue reading "Tea drugs or alcohol: Best defense of DUI charges in Palm Beach is an aggressive defense attorney" »

February 25, 2011

Pill Mill Raid Highlights Issue of Prescription Drug Trafficking in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale

Eleven defendants -- including five doctors --- were arrested in Palm Beach after an investigation into so-called "pill mills," the Palm Beach Post reported.

In an increasing number of cases, prescription medication is involved in felony drug charges in Palm Beach and elsewhere in South Florida. In this case, the defendants are accused of selling millions in pain medication to patients with trumped up injuries.
1156714_perscription_drug_case.jpg
With high numbers of overdose deaths in South Florida being attributed to prescription drug abuse, our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers continue to see an increased emphasis on enforcement. In cases involving doctors, it is particularly critical to seek well-qualified legal advice immediately. Doctors enjoy a confidential and complex relationship that is unique to each patient. Unfair charges can lead to the loss of a doctor's medical license and financial devastation.

In this instance, the investigation dubbed "Operation Pill Nation" led to state and federal charges against 17 defendants. Authorities also report shuttering a number of clinics and seizing tens of millions of dollars in cash.

The operation was even highlighted by the Obama Administration. And, with increasing evidence that South Florida has become a central supplier for the prescription-drug black market nationwide, the continued emphasis on enforcement efforts is certain. Investigators revealed they had made more than 340 undercover prescription drug buys from more than 60 doctors at 40 clinics throughout the state.

Locally, 11 defendants face charges of racketeering and drug trafficking in Palm Beach County.

Continue reading "Pill Mill Raid Highlights Issue of Prescription Drug Trafficking in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale" »

January 27, 2011

Fugitive Arrested on Drug Charges in West Palm Beach Three Decades after Fleeing Federal Trial

A 62-year-old man is facing drug charges in West Palm Beach after authorities arrested him at a senior living community in connection with federal drug charges filed more than 30 years ago, according to the Miami Herald.

The defendant is accused of being a member of the infamous Black Tuna Gang, the biggest marijuana-smuggling operation of its time, when he skipped out on his federal trial. He was charged along with 13 others as part of the biggest pot importation case in the nation's history.
952313_gavel.jpg

Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers have seen an increase in the number of cold-case prosecutions in recent years. In large part because of the advent of DNA databases (to which many convicted felons must contribute a sample, thereby matching defendants to old crimes that would otherwise never be solved.) These cases often result in arrest and prosecution years or even decades after the fact.

In many cases, defendants mistakenly think statutes of limitations will prevent them from being prosecuted. This is often not the case. In this case, in which the defendant had already been charged but escaped prior to conviction, the government convicted him anyway. In other cases the government will often argue that time stopped, until such time that the defendant can be located and returned to face the charges. In cases that involve new charges, as when a defendant is newly identified after a lengthy period of time, lawmakers continue to pass laws permitting prosecution even after the statute of limitations would otherwise have passed.

Such cases create a significant hazard for a defendant: Witnesses are often dead or unable to be located and evidence is frequently lost or destroyed. Exercising your right to remain silent, and consulting with an attorney at the earliest opportunity, is usually the best course of action for protecting your rights.

In this case, the Herald reports the judge is still on the bench and the defendant was convicted in absentia of racketeering, possession and distribution charges.

A joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation took down the gang in 1979; members were accused of smuggling more than 500 tons of marijuana into the country during a 16-month period.

Following his arrest, the defendant was released on $25,000 bond and took part in his trial for more than a month before disappearing. Authorities had information that he was living under an assumed name in Chile in 1993. He was later believed to be in Germany. In 2001, he was believed to be renting a New York penthouse for $10,000 a month.

Late last year, authorities discovered he had been issued a Florida driver's license under his own name.

Continue reading "Fugitive Arrested on Drug Charges in West Palm Beach Three Decades after Fleeing Federal Trial" »

January 18, 2011

Coral Springs Principal Facing Felony Drug Charges after Marijuana Found in Bedroom

Our Coral Springs criminal defense attorneys noted the weekend arrest of a Broward County elementary school principal on drug charges.

The Palm Beach Post reported the 60-year-old woman was charged with felony drug possession and taken to the Broward County main jail in Fort Lauderdale. The case originated with the arrest of her 18-year-old son, who police say was in possession of 126 grams of marijuana. He faces a charge of possession with intent to deliver.
403_dutch_weed.jpg

In this case, police say they found 20 grams of pot and drug paraphernalia in the principal's bedroom, according to the arrest affidavit. Police therefore charged her with direct possession of the drugs, as well as several pipes and rolling papers.

A Broward County defense attorney will review the facts and circumstances of this case, including the legality of the search. If police lacked a search warrant, if the warrant was not properly issued, or if police overstepped the boundaries of the warrant, evidence in the case could be dismissed. A reduction or dismissal of the charges often results in such cases.

The defendant is principal at Coral Park Elementary in Coral Springs. A spokesperson for the Broward County school system said administrators were searching for an interim principal. Fair or not, school teachers are held to a higher standard. Defending yourself against criminal charges becomes all the more critical if you work in a school, as a law enforcement officer or in other positions of trust.

A not guilty verdict, or an agreement that reduces the charges and disposes the case in a manner that is in your best interest, can go a long way toward protecting your rights, your freedom and your current and future financial well-being.

Continue reading "Coral Springs Principal Facing Felony Drug Charges after Marijuana Found in Bedroom" »

December 17, 2010

Broward County Drug Crime Attorneys Discuss Loophole in Pill Mill Laws

Broward_attorney_pill_mill.jpgOver the past several years, so-called “pill mills” have sprung up across Broward County. These pain clinics make money by catering to those addicted to prescription drugs like oxycodone or methadone and have spurred legislators to action, and a new law went into effect on October 1. The law limits pain clinics to dispensing only three days’ worth of medication; however, clinic doctors can still prescribe 30 days’ worth of pills, which the patients can pick up elsewhere.

State drug czar Bruce Grant says he has anecdotal evidence that pain clinic owners and investors are circumventing the new law by opening pharmacies outside of the pain clinics, allowing them to continue making money off of addictive pain-killers. According to a Broward Sheriff’s Office Sergeant, some pain clinics even distribute a list of pharmacies instead of giving out pills. It’s estimated that there are around 10 Broward pharmacies that appear on such lists, which are also passed around by addicts and drug dealers.

Once Florida’s prescription monitoring program is fully operational, it’s expected that they will help pharmacists and authorities recognize drug traffickers and addicts and crack down on this growing problem. The program could launch as early 2011.

Source: Some pain clinics find loophole in restrictive new state law, South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 12, 2010

Continue reading "Broward County Drug Crime Attorneys Discuss Loophole in Pill Mill Laws" »

December 13, 2010

Palm Beach County Drug Crime Attorneys Discuss Pot Grow Houses

Florida officials say the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Boynton Beach Police, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently apprehended a hydroponic marijuana grow operation in Fellsmere, taking more than 300 plants from the house. The street value for that amount of marijuana is estimated at almost five hundred grand.

Police also seized several more pounds of marijuana and weapons from a house on the Intracoastal in Boynton Beach. An investigation took three months and resulted in the arrest of a 48-year-old Boynton Beach man who is charged with cultivation of marijuana and trafficking in marijuana plants. He is currently free on bond.

The grow house had been modified with 24-hour high intensity lighting, several dehumidifier and air conditioning units and timers, according to police. Florida Power & Light is one of the providers in the area where the grow house is located and said it only releases information on its client when the company is served with a subpoena. Otherwise, a spokesperson said, they do not tip off police about suspicious activity or unusual usage patterns.

Source: FPL says it doesn’t tip police to marijuana grow houses, South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 10, 2010

Continue reading "Palm Beach County Drug Crime Attorneys Discuss Pot Grow Houses" »

December 10, 2010

Drug Administration Bans Chemicals Found in ‘Fake Pot’

FL_illegal_weed_incense.jpgOur Broward County drug crime attorneys have learned that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced a nationwide emergency ban of several chemicals found in what’s known in some circles as “fake pot,” a substance sold as incense at specialty shops and convenience stores around the nation. According to the DEA, the ban begins in at least 30 days and will make it illegal to sell or possess products containing the chemicals for at least a year.

The ban was enacted in response to reports from poison centers, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies who said the incense was being misused. In a statement, DEA Acting Administor Michele Leonhart said the manufacturers of these products have “mislead their customers into thinking that 'fake pot' is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case.”

The banned chemicals, JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497 and cannabicyclohexano, will be labeled Schedule 1 drugs, which is the restrictive category for drugs considered to be unsafe and with no medical value.

Source: DEA to enact emergency ban of 'legal weed' nationwide, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, November 24, 2010

Continue reading "Drug Administration Bans Chemicals Found in ‘Fake Pot’" »

September 7, 2010

South Florida Attorneys Discuss Controversial Marijuana Test

FL_drug_lawers.jpgAccording to an investigative article, a commonly used marijuana test called Duquenois-Levine or D-L test often gives inaccurate results.

That’s what happened a 48-year-old Florida woman after using her “smudge stick” to commune with nature outside of Weston, Florida. She was later arrested and charged with marijuana possession based on the findings of a D-L test. However, she was later released from jail and never faced trial on marijuana possession charges. As a result, she decided to file a lawsuit for wrongful arrest.

Despite the fact that the D-L test has been proven unreliable in identifying marijuana, it’s still widely used by police officers across the country.

Source: Has the Most Common Marijuana Test Resulted in Tens of Thousands of Wrongful Convictions?, AlterNet.org, July 28, 2010

Continue reading "South Florida Attorneys Discuss Controversial Marijuana Test" »

July 28, 2010

South Florida Lawyers Discuss ‘Bong Bill’

Earlier this month, Gainesville, Florida’s “bong bill” went into effect, which bans the sale of bongs, pipes, and other devices used for smoking marijuana in stores that earn 25% or more of their annual revenue from these types of products. These types of stores are called “head shops.” Stores with a smaller focus on bongs and a more diverse product line are not affected.

Already, a class-action lawsuit has been filed that questions the law’s constitutionality, since it’s aimed at criminalizing behavior, but only at a certain type of business. One lawyer likened it to police being selective about what types of cars they pull over for speeding, which is not fair to drivers.

However, because there’s a legal precedent for regulating tobacco and alcohol-related products, it’s likely that the bill will stand. If that happens, people may continue purchasing these products by going to different stores or driving to other cities that don’t have such strict regulations.

Source: ‘Bong bill’ affects head shops, Alligator.org, July 6, 2010

Continue reading "South Florida Lawyers Discuss ‘Bong Bill’ " »

June 21, 2010

Miami Beach Proposal Would Decriminalize Marijuana

pot_plants.jpgAttorneys at our Florida law firm have learned that the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is organizing a drive to pass a proposed amendment about marijuana possession in Miami Beach. If passed, the amendment would make personal possession of marijuana a civil code violation punishable by a city-levied fine of $100.

According to Florida law, possession of less than 20 grams of pot is a misdemeanor. The current maximum sentence for possessing small quantities of pot is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy has already succeeded in passing a similar ballot initiative in Massachusetts in 2008. Legal experts point out that even if Florida voters pass the pot initiative, it could get shot down at the state or federal level.

Source: Campaign under way to decriminalize marijuana in Miami Beach, Miami Herald, June 17, 2010

Continue reading "Miami Beach Proposal Would Decriminalize Marijuana" »

June 1, 2010

Mysterious Smell in Weston Prompts Police to Search for Pot

weston_smell.jpgIn Weston, Florida, locals say there’s a distant aroma of marijuana. Some even created a Facebook page called “That Damn Weed Smell on Weston Rd. and Blatt Blvd.” The page was created in late April and has already received over a thousand “likes.” However, most of the residents who swear it’s pot are local high school students.

The Weston Police Department investigated the odor and did not find evidence of marijuana plants, so NBC Miami decided to launch their own investigation. They brought in a local gardening expert, who took a whiff and determined that the smell is a combination of Verbenas and Society Garlic, not pot as some residents believed.

Another conspiracy theory gone to pot!

Source: Mystery Smell In Weston: Is It Pot or Not?, NBCMiami.com, May 18, 2010

Continue reading "Mysterious Smell in Weston Prompts Police to Search for Pot" »

April 23, 2010

Florida Seeing More Deaths from Prescription Drug Overdose

prescription_drugs.jpgAccording to a report from Florida's medical examiners, deaths from illegal drugs on the decline, while fatal overdoses from prescription drug abuse is on the rise. Deaths from cocaine overdose went down 23% in 2008, while deaths from the painkiller oxycodone increased by 33%.

Prescription drugs accounted for three quarters of the drugs found in overdose victims. Oxycodone is reportedly the most popular drug in the black-market pill trade supplied by pill clinics, although many drug-related deaths involve dangerous drug interactions. The office of Broward County's medical examiner detected oxydocone in 171 overdose deaths in 2008.

New laws on prescription drug monitoring went into effect last week, but the prescription database designed to detect addicts getting drugs from multiple doctors is not expected to be operational until late 2011.

Source: Prescription drug overdose deaths soar, Merced Sun Star, April 10, 2010

Continue reading "Florida Seeing More Deaths from Prescription Drug Overdose" »

April 20, 2010

Marijuana Smokers Celebrate 'High' Holiday

medical-marijuana-FL.jpgEach year on April 20, marijuana legalization advocates gather to celebrate 4/20, the annual celebration and mass civil disobedience inspired by "420" (insider slang for smoking cannabis). In Northern California, several hundred people gathered outside of a IGrow, a 15,000-square-foot cultivation equipment emporium, to observe "420 Eve."

Revelers lit up joints inside a stretch Hummer parked outside the superstore and explored booths with pot-related merchandise like pipe-shaped lollipops. The store also has a doctor working three days a week to evaluate people who might be candidates for medical marijuana.

The celebratory vibe is felt elsewhere in the country, as four cable television channels present programming around 420 and pot-smoking culture.

Source: Pot smokers out, proud for 4/20 high holiday, Palm Beach Post, April 20, 2010

Continue reading "Marijuana Smokers Celebrate 'High' Holiday " »

April 7, 2010

Florida Drug Possession Lawyer: Bill to Limit Sale of Pipes to Tobacco Shops

FL_drug_law.jpgLast month, Florida lawmakers approved a new bill that will make it more difficult to sell carburetor pipes, chillums, and chillers in the state. Ironically, most members of the House Finance and Tax Council aren't sure exactly what these items are, but they approved the bill 16-0.

"Head shops" claim they are selling paraphernalia to smoke tobacco, but lawmakers say those items are actually used to inhale marijuana and crack. The bill (HB 187) will prohibit Florida retailers from selling pipes, including those made of metal, wood, acrylic, ceramic, glass, stone, or plastic, unless at least three quarters of their sales are tobacco.

It's also interesting to note that while the federal government bans the importation of drug paraphernalia, the state of Florida allows their sale once they're in the state.

Source: 'Head shops' the target of bill limiting the sale of pipes to tobacco shops, Palm Beach Post, March 11, 2010.

Continue reading "Florida Drug Possession Lawyer: Bill to Limit Sale of Pipes to Tobacco Shops" »

March 12, 2010

Broward County Drug Possession Lawyer Discusses Pain Clinics

Florida_pill_mill.jpgAuthorities in Broward and Palm Beach say they anticipate a lengthy investigation of three South Florida pain clinics that are suspected of illegally distributing prescription meds, including the incredibly addictive oxycodone pills. Such clinics have been called "pill mills" by some Florida investigators.

All three clinics are owned by the same twin brothers. One of the clinics, called American Pain, had been operating for just five weeks before authorities raided the pain clinic, taking several boxes with them. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration and police from Broward and Palm Beach counties participated in the raid.

Documents from the 14-month investigation allege that the clinic attracted people from other states who would take pills back to their home state and sell them at a huge markup. The five doctors working full-time at the clinics allegedly distributed more than 2 million oxycodone pills last year. No criminal charges have been filed yet, but the investigation continues.

Source: Feds Raid Pain Clinics Suspected of Illegally Distributing Millions of Prescription Drugs, ABC News, March 8, 2010

Continue reading "Broward County Drug Possession Lawyer Discusses Pain Clinics" »

February 22, 2010

Florida Police Arrest Former Heavyweight Champ on Drug Charges

boxing_gloves.jpgOur Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys have learned that Oliver McCall, the former world heavyweight champion was arrested earlier this month on a drug offense. According to Fort Lauderdale police, McCall was arrested on cocaine possession charges and is also charged with violating probation for a previous offense.

The 44-year-old fighter has had previous drug-related issues and served jail time for charges including crack cocaine possession.

Some boxing experts predict the arrest could mark the beginning of the end for McCall, who has since been removed from headlining an eight-fight card that was scheduled for last Tuesday. However, McCall's son Elijah will still be part of the fight.

Sources: Former world heavyweight champion Oliver McCall arrested in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida Sun Sentinel, February 15, 2010

Former Heavyweight Champs in Trouble, About.com, February 16, 2010

Continue reading "Florida Police Arrest Former Heavyweight Champ on Drug Charges" »

December 28, 2009

Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Discuss Drug Courts

FL_drug_court.JPGTwenty years ago, Miami set up the nation's first drug court as a way to get nonviolent offenders into court-supervised drug rehab programs instead of spending time in jail. Now over 2,300 drug courts have sprung up around the country, and the Obama administration hopes to boost funding to drug courts, because these specialized courts are currently only available to a very small percentage of drug offenders.

The problem, according to advocates for drug courts, is a lack of money. There are currently about 1.2 million drug-addicted offenders and the $64 million in federal funds received by drug courts this year are not enough to treat all those who need it. The drug court association says that would take about $1.5 billion over six years, as well as matching funding from states.

Some defense attorneys say that prosecutors tend not to choose defendants with serious drug problems and that requiring defendants to plead guilty in order to get into drug courts is unfair. Still, there is evidence that the programs are working. About three quarters of drug court graduates remain arrest-free for at least two years after completing the program.

Source: Drug courts successful for few who get in, Associated Press, November 30, 2009

Continue reading "Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Discuss Drug Courts" »

November 2, 2009

Broward and Palm Beach Drug Lawyer - Marijuana Grow Houses on the Rise

Broward Drug AttorneyOur Palm Beach and Broward County Drug Defense Attorneys recently read in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Cuban refugees are dominating the Florida's indoor marijuana trade. According to the article, hundreds of growhouses have sprung up since 2005 and supervisors for the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area approximate that as much as 90 percent of those arrested on grow-house-related marijuana charges are Cubans who arrived in the US within the past five years.

In Palm Beach, 90 to 95% of the arrests as part of drug busts called "D-Day" and "Eagle Claw" were Cuban. And in Miami-Dade, 95% were Cubans. That trend is reversed in Broward County, where only 11% of the arrests in 2008 and 2009 involved Cuban refugees.

Since there is no central database for sharing information about pot grow houses among police agencies, many Florida cops do not know much about the industry. Often when police raid a grow house, they arrest low level workers rather than their bosses or ringleaders. Authorities say that many of those involved in the illegal drug trade escape serious punishment because US policy does not allow the deportation of Cubans and many keep the number of marijuana plants under 100 to avoid tougher federal sentences.

Cubans dominate illegal pot grow house trade in Florida, drug and law enforcement officials say, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 30, 2009

Continue reading "Broward and Palm Beach Drug Lawyer - Marijuana Grow Houses on the Rise" »

June 12, 2009

Florida Criminal Lawyer Comments on New Marijuana Grow House Law

illegal_drug_weed.jpgA new bill passed during the spring legislative session, House Bill 29, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for landlords to permit tenants to connect utilities themselves. Judges are mandated to accept an unpermitted electrical junction as proof of intent to violate the law. Stealing utility services to manufacture a controlled substance such as marijuana is also now a first-degree misdemeanor.

Several weeks ago, investigators discovered a marijuana grow house in Lorida after an electrical transformer blew. Inside the house, they found 341 marijuana plants, grow lights CO2 generators, and other items. The tenant was charged with producing and trafficking of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A representative of Glades Electric estimates that over $80,000 worth of electricity was stolen. The diversion was wired so it appears that the house uses a normal amount of electricity when in actuality, the monthly bill should be around $2,000 per month. These grow houses cost the company over $1 million every year.

New grow house law targets landlords, Highlands Today, May 21, 2009

Continue reading "Florida Criminal Lawyer Comments on New Marijuana Grow House Law" »

May 22, 2009

Fort Lauderdale Felony Attorney - Broward Jails Cutting Inmate Treatment Programs to Reduce Budget

Florida_inmates.jpgLast week in South Florida, the Broward County Sheriff's Office sent a letter to judges and attorneys stating that inmates would no longer have access to substance abuse treatment, anger management, computer skills, and other training programs due to budget cuts. These programs are commonly used in Broward County for drug possession cases, domestic violence battery cases, felony battery cases and violation of probation cases.

Those programs will end by August 1, saving around $2.2 million. Broward County officials asked the Department of Community Control to reduce its budget by $50 million for the fiscal year starting October 1.

More than a fifth of Broward County's jail population used those programs, and some inmates got reduced jail sentences after completing treatment programs for drug abuse. While some inmates will still be able to participate in voluntary programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, reduced sentences will no longer be an option, which some worry could lead to overcrowding. Broward County is already under court order to avoid overcrowding in its prisons.

Broward sheriff wants to end inmate treatment programs to save money, South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 14, 2009.

Continue reading "Fort Lauderdale Felony Attorney - Broward Jails Cutting Inmate Treatment Programs to Reduce Budget" »

May 8, 2009

Broward Criminal Attorney Discusses Relocation of DEA

After three decades in Miami-Dade County, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has relocated to a vacant pharmaceutical office complex near Weston Road in Weston. The DEA was evicted from its old headquarters in Doral, which is being converted into a city center.

Affordability of rent and convenient access to South Florida's highways were both factors in the decision to relocate to Broward County; however the new geography of South Florida's drug trade was also a consideration. Drug activity in South Florida is no longer centered around Miami, as it has spread to the suburbs of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In fact, when federal authorities arrested the leader of a Colombian drug ring three years ago, their raids took them to a Weston storage unit. Family members of the drug lord were living quietly in Broward County, according to prosecutors.

However, some worry that the DEA will out of place in Weston, since there are no prisons or courthouses nearby. However, the DEA will also maintain outposts in Miami, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. A city commissioner for Weston said he predicts that the move will be an economic boon for the town.

DEA moves to Weston: In upscale Broward city, the new neighbors are narcs, South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 5, 2009

Continue reading "Broward Criminal Attorney Discusses Relocation of DEA" »