|Recent Report States the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Continues to go after Heroin Dealers Aggressively
A recent News4Jax story explains the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office attempt to reduce the amount of heroin overdoses in Jacksonville. The story states that six people have been arrested in a targeted effort to rid the community of the drug (Heroin). The article was published on March 9, 2017.
Benjamin Studybaker was arrested for selling Heroin. His actual arrest was for Possession of Heroin with Intent to Sell, Manufacture, or Deliver within 1000 ft of a Convenience Business. Studybaker’s arrest was dated January 13, 2017. A review of the arrest and booking sheet shows Studybaker was contacted by undercover narcotics officers through the social media website Facebook. A deal was struck in which Studybaker would meet the undercover detective at a specified location and sell heroin in exchange for $60.00. When Studybaker arrived at the pre-determined location, he was taken into custody, before any hand to hand transaction took place. No naroctics were recovered on Studybaker’s person. A search of the area Studybaker where was standing revealed 3 tin foil packets containing Heroin. Studybaker denied any knowledge of the narcotics found by JSO.
Reviewing Studybaker’s court records show that the State of Florida filed a lesser charge of Possession with Intent to Sell, Manufacture, or Deliver of a Controlled Substance. Mr. Studybaker’s case was transferred to Veteran’s Court, a diversionary program for Veterans. The Possession with Intent Charge is a Second Degree Felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in Florida State Prison. If Studybaker successfully completes Veteran’s Court, his case will likely result in a drop, as if it never happened.
Leeanne Pegg was arrested on February 9, 2017, for Sale of Heroin. A review of her heavily redacted arrest reports shows that she was contacted at a hotel on Main Street by undercover narcotics detectives. A narcotics conversation took place in which Pegg agreed to sell the undercovers $20.00 worth of Heroin. After the transaction was completed, Pegg was taken into custody. The $20.00 was recovered inside of Pegg’s shirt. The money would have been pre-marked by the undercover detectives in the hopes that it would later be recovered on Pegg during the take down.
A review of court records for Pegg shows that the State of Florida filed a Sale, Manufacture, or Deliver of a Controlled Substance. Pegg’s case is currently pending a review for the diversionary program Drug Court. A Sale of Heroin charge is a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in the Florida State Prison. If Pegg successfully completes her Drug Court Program, her case will likely end in a drop, as if the case never happened.
Michael Harris and Sophia Cheek were arrested on January 17, 2017, by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office SWAT team for Possession of Heroin with Intent to Sell, Manufacture, or Deliver. A review of the redacted arrest and booking report shows that the SWAT team entered the home and located Harris and Cheek in a front bedroom. A search of Harris’ person revealed several baggies of heroin in his front right pocket. A search of the bedroom revealed multiple baggies and straws with drug residue on them. Harris and Cheek both stated, according to the police, in an interview that they are heroin users. A review of Harris’ court records shows that the State of Florida Filed a Simple Possession of Heroin charge. Harris plead guilty on February 15, 2017 and received 6 months in the Duval County Jail. If the search warrant was in fact valid, the State of Florida had a simple case against Harris to prove the crime of possession. All that would be needed is for a SWAT member to come into the courtroom and state, “I found heroin inside of Mr. Harris’ pocket.”A review of Cheek’s court records shows that her case was not filed (dropped), by the State of Florida on February 7, 2017. The drop is likely based on the simple jury instruction stating that mere proximity to an illegal substance is not enough to prove possession.
Both Harris and Cheek’s initial charge for Possession with Intent is a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in the Florida State Prison. It is extremely difficult for the State of Florida to prove Possession with Intent cases based on the law and case law. This likely explains why Harris’ charge was bumped down to Simple Possession. Possession of heroin, like many other narcotics or drugs is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in the Florida State Prison.
Terraneus Taylor was arrested on January 17, 2017, for three counts of Sale of Heroin and Possession of not more than Twenty Grams of Marijuana (Cannabis). Taylor’s arrest report is not currently available for review based on Florida’s broad Public Records law. A review of Taylor’s court records shows that the State of Florida filed three separate Sale or Delivery of Heroin charges against Taylor. Each count is a separate second degree felony in carrying up to fifteen years in Florida State Prison. If each sale is a separate incident, each count can be run consecutive, back to back, raising the maximum to forty five years in Florida State Prison. The Possession of Cannabis charge was dropped by the State of Florida for unknown reasons. If the State would have proceeded on the cannabis charge, Taylor would have faced a first degree misdemeanor charge with a maximum sentence of one year in the Duval County Jail. Taylor’s sentencing is pending.
David Walker is the sixth person arrested in the targeted operation. At the time of the writing of this article, no information was available regarding Walker’s arrest or court proceeding.
By simply reading the News4Jax article it is not clear if the intent is to show a great reduction in Heroin on the Streets of Jacksonville. The information available shows that a total of $80.00 worth of Heroin was involved in the Sales and two addicts were arrested by the SWAT team. In the courtroom, two cases have gone to diversionary programs, one case was flat out dropped, one case resulted in a six month jail sentence, one case is pending sentencing, and the other is unknown. Perhaps to an uneducated reader, one may assume the Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office is putting a dent in Heroin on the streets. The purpose of the article would lead you to believe JSO went out and arrested six people “Aggressively,” however it is six arrests that have taken place one to two months ago. It is clear Jacksonville has a heroin addiction(an article shows over 500 jacksonville heroin overdose deaths in 2016) and overdose problem and the heroin surge has to be battled; however, this is a feel good story about an approach is nothing more than a numbers game. This is nothing more than the police picking off the available low hanging fruit.
STEPS TO TAKE IF YOURSELF OR A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN ARRESTED FOR DRUG POSSESSION OR SALES
If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged on similar charges discussed above or any other drug offense or narcotics related case including Trafficking, Sales, Possession with Intent, or Simple Possession you will certainly need an attorney . Almost all North Florida criminal defense lawyers give free consultations and/or jail visits.
Please give the Forbess Law Firm, 904-634-0900, a call for a free consultation. Our firm handles narcotics and drug cases on a daily basis in Duval (Jacksonville), Nassau, Clay, Baker, St. Johns, Bradford, Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and other surrounding counties. Further, upon the arrest of yourself or a loved one, our law firm is always available to argue for a reasonable bond in First Appearance Court. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to represent you and your loved ones.
SUSPECT NOT ARRESTED UNTIL MULTIPLE SALES
A recent News4Jax story gives details into the arrest of Reco Benefield and Amber Troutman for drug charges and child neglect. The news report states that an undercover Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Detective met with Benefield to purchase crack cocaine on January 11, 2017. After the alledged hand to hand drug sale was completed a takedown signal was given and Benefield was taken into custody. The same Detectives apparently had previously purchased crack cocaine from Benefield on December 15, 2016. Benefield was also out on bond for 2016 Drug Charges dealing with the Sale of Pills (Oxycodone and Dilaudid) as well as crack cocaine on September 13, 2016 and September 14, 2016.
EVERYDAY TECHNOLOGY AND CELL PHONE USE COMES BACK TO HAUNT THE ACCUSED
Benefield’s cases all involve Undercover Narcotics Detectives utilizing cell phones to contact Benefield as well as to text Benefield. The live phone calls between Benefield and JSO certainly will be recorded as evidence setting up the transactions. Further it is fairly simple for JSO to print out copies of the text messages to utilize as evidence against Benefield. Video recording devices are also often utilized to capture the transactions and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Arrest and Booking Reports reflect that they were used in all of the transactions with Benefield.
Mr. Benefield already has a tough road in front of him. Each drug sale he is charged with carries a maximum of 15 years in Florida State Prison. He currently has four separate and individual sales. The maximum Benefield faces on just the drug sales is 60 years in Florida State Prison. Further the State of Florida will be able to try each sale individually against Benefield. Benefield would have to be found not guilty at trial four separate times. The State of Florida can sit down and pick which case to try first, likely their strongest one. The State of Florida gets to choose which case is tried first, as they have the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Many times, the local police will set up several “buys” with the same dealer. Rather than arresting the dealer after the first sale, the police will leave a known dealer on the street, knowing full well that he or she is still selling. The objective is to load the soon to be arrested dealer up with multiple cases. If undercover police or a confidential informant conduct a purchase of drugs and the seller is arrested on the spot, that is called a “buy-bust.” Here, the method employed originally was a “buy-walk” where the drugs were bought but law enforcement did not arrest the seller until later, and when arrested later, that was a “buy-bust” arrest. The accused is entitled under the rules of discovery to see all of the evidence against him. In most of these drug sale cases the police have fairly decent videos of the transactions. It is not known to this writer if the videos of Benefield show him doing anything illegal. While he awaits trial he is also presumed to be innocent.
A NEW ARREST WHILE OUT ON BOND EQUALS A BOND REVOCATION
Since Mr. Benefield was out on bond for his earlier drug sales accusations, he likely will remain in the Duval County Jail until his cases resolve. Anytime an individual is arrested for new charges, commonly referred to as “New Law Violations,” the State of Florida is able to file a Motion to Revoke Bond. All that is required by the State to have a Motion to Revoke Bond Granted, is that probable cause existed for the arrest of Benefield on new charges. Attaching an Arresting and Booking Sheet is all that is typically needed. The State of Florida filed a Motion to Revoke bond against Benefield, which is almost automatically heard by the Judge. The Judge heard the State’s motion and in fact revoked Benefield’s bond on January 18, 2017. Benefield is now being held with No Bond until his case is resolved. Possibly down the road Benefield’s lawyer may be able to file a Motion to Set Bond, similar to a Motion to Reduce Bond, however the chances of the Court granting that motion are very slim. One additional concern, for those defendants that remain in jail, is the recording of all phone calls they make. Local Prosecutors have made hundreds of cases simply because the inmate or his or her family bring up and discuss the facts of the case, even with a recorded warning issued at the start of every call.
SANTA COULD MISS CHRISTMAS
On December 19, 2016 undercover detectives from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office arrested Isaac Earl Geiger for several narcotics charges. Per a News4Jax story, the Sheriff’s office were conducting an investigation on Golfair Boulevard based on recent complaints regarding drugs and/or illegal narcotics. During the investigation, the Sheriff’s Office noticed Geiger standing at the door of a U-Haul rental truck in the parking lot. Geiger was dressed in a red Santa Suit. The Sheriff’s Office reports that they observed Geiger go to and from the U-Haul several times, retrieving items, and walking away. Upon Geiger detecting the police presence, Geiger fled on foot. The report states that Geiger “Tripped” over his Santa pants while fleeing from the police. While being taken into custody, Geiger refused to take his hands out from underneath his body. A search of Geiger revealed a large sum of cash and a plastic baggie containing narcotics. The Sheriff’s Office returned to the U-Haul and observed a large amount of marijuana in plain view on the driver’s seat of the U-Haul. A search of the U-Haul revealed additional marijuana, a scale, MDMA commonly referred to as ecstasy, Molly (another purer form of MDMA) and additional money. It is unclear based on the report if Geiger was the target of the complaints or not. Geiger was arrested and charged with several violations of Florida State Statute 893.13 which deals with illegal drug possession, sale of drugs, possession of drugs with intent to sell, and paraphernalia. Specifically, Geiger was charged with three counts of Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell within 1000 Feet Public Housing (First Degree Felony), two counts of Possession of Cannabis with Intent to Sell within 1000 Feet of Public Housing (Second Degree Felony), Resisting an Officer without Violence (First Degree Misdemeanor), and Possession with Intent to Use Drug Paraphernalia (First Degree Misdemeanor).
THESE CHARGES COULD MEAN SANTA MISSES THE NEXT FEW CHRISTMASES
Geiger faces a maximum of one hundred and twenty two years in the Florida State Prison system as he is currently charged. The defendant faces thirty years for each first degree felony, fifteen years for each second degree felony, and one year for each first degree misdemeanor. However, the State likely is barred from filing multiple counts regarding the same illegal substance. For example the State likely will be unable to prove two separate counts of Possession of Marijuana or three separate counts of Possession of MDMA. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for the State to file and prove that the Narcotics found inside of the U-Haul were placed or possessed there with the intent to sell. Even with large sums of money, scales, and even a confession that narcotics were possessed with the intent to sell at a later date is usually not enough for a conviction.
Another burden the State will have to overcome is the “Possession” element of the crimes charged. Florida law defines Possession in two ways, Actual Possession and Constructive Possession (Florida State Statute 893.13(6)). Actual Possession means the person is aware of the presence of the substance and the substance is in the hand of or on the person, or, the substance is in a container in the hand of or on the person, or the substance is so close as to be within ready reach and is under the control of a person. If Geiger actually did have a plastic baggie containing narcotics in his Santa suit, then the State may move forward under the actual possession theory as the argument is that the substance is within ready reach and is under the control of the person. Constructive possession means the person is aware of the presence of the substance, the substance is in a place which the person has control, and the person has the ability to control the substance. Mere Proximity to a substance is not sufficient to establish the power and intention to control that substance when the substance is in a place that the person does not control. All of the items found within the U-Haul the State will be required to prove the defendant’s knowledge and control. This is often times were the hiring of defense lawyer comes in to play. Often times the defense attorney is able to have cases completely dropped based on this very simple analysis of the Florida Law defining possession. Continue reading
FLORIDA AMENDMENT #2 TO EXPAND MEDICAL MARIJUANA GETS 71.3% OF VOTES
Florida voters took to the polls on November 8, 2016, this last Tuesday to decide the heated political race for the white house. In Florida, as in many states, there were what could be characterized as marijuana legalization amendments on the ballots. Several states are apparently receptive to the idea of medically prescribed marijuana and more states are moving to the legalization of marijuana for what is termed “recreational” use. According to a report, the majority of voting citizens in every county in Florida voted in favor of Amendment 2. This amendment, a version of which failed two years ago, passed with the serious efforts and financial contributions of powerhouse Orlando trial attorney, John Morgan, of the Morgan and Morgan firm. For months as this writer was entering or exiting the Duval County Courthouse, activists with clipboards were gathering signatures on petititons in support of this movement. Under the terms of the amendment, people suffering from “debilitating illnesses” can have medical marijuana prescribed to them by their physician. This medical marijuana is to be regulated by the Department of Health. The states of Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota also voted like Florida to allow medical use of marijuana. Now 29 states are looking to have legalized medical marijuana.
SEVERAL STATES NOW ALLOW RECREATIONAL USE OF MARIJUANA
Citizens in the states of California, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to allow the legal smoking of weed. For some reason this is termed “recreational” use. This writer has never heard alcoholic beverages being bought or consumed for “recreational” use. Perhaps it is just a term used to distinguish casual weed smoking from the prescribed use designated by one’s health care provider. The following states had already legalized weed: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. This legalization also includes the government taxation that comes along with it. Continue reading
The Poor Man’s Route to Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation
We are all quite familiar with drug and alcohol problems. When the wealthy announce one of theirs has a problem, one envisions the addict or abuser in the nice, expensive environs of Southern California, Palm Beach or the Arizona desert. Classes include horseback riding, yoga, arts and crafts, nutrition and physical fitness. These programs are tremendously costly and marketed heavily in the moneyed community. Most cities and counties have some type of “drug court” and/or some type of residential drug treatment. In Duval County a separate felony division encompasses drug court. A person arrested on a felony charge, if offered the chance at drug court will go through a 12-18 month program with at least weekly meetings at the courthouse. The meetings are run in a court setting with plenty of encouragement from a sitting magistrate functioning as the group leader. It is still very much a courtroom with armed bailiffs who routinely cuff up those with dirty urine samples. Those who do not obey the rules of drug court are subject to going to jail on a contempt of court charge. That will happen a few times and the person will be kicked out of the program. The felony case goes back to a line attorney for a filing decision on the original charge. The felony almost always gets filed. At this point the offender has blown a chance at cleaning up and will also pick up a criminal record. The felony would have been dropped upon completion of drug court, assuming no other problems or criminal activity. It is usually a drug crime or property crime strike on one’s record.
The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act
Florida Law, under Statutes 932.701 to 932.706, allows law enforcement to seize the property of individuals. The property may be classified as “contraband” and may be illegal on its face. The property may be considered to be an instrumentality of the criminal offense such as a car used to drive to drug transactions or a yacht used to haul the drugs in from offshore. A four wheeler used to go out into the woods and check on a marijuana grow would be in this category as would any tractors used to keep up with the grow property. The laws under this statute also state that an individual may forfeit any property that are the proceeds of criminal activity. The auction in Jacksonville, Florida, scheduled for May 15, has vehicles, watches, gold jewelry and fancy automotive rims. The person forfeiting the property may contest the seizure in a civil proceeding which pits the property owner against the local police department’s forfeiture division accompanied by an attorney from the State Attorneys Office. All that is needed to be shown by the seizing authority is probable cause that the property is either contraband, an instrumentality of a crime, or the byproduct or fruits of a crime.
“Most of the Items This Round Are From Narcotic Seizures”
Those are the words of JSO Lt. Ray Beltz as quoted by News4Jax.com. What is not hitting this governmental auction block is any cash or currency which is usually the first item seized by drug unit officers. Additionally, the authorities typically only seize vehicles that have clear titles, ie, the vehicle is free and clear, no payments to worry about. Narcotic officers will often run “reverse stings” where the officers pose as drug sellers, actually flashing huge amounts of drugs (seized in prior cases and signed out of property rooms for particular stings) luring a drug buyer to come forward with a huge amount of soon to be seized cash. The cash amounts seized in this fashion are always a prearranged goal second to the arrest and conviction of the drug traffficker. Subsequently, there is no need for a time consuming auction. No vehicle storage or exchange of titles getting in the way. The motto “Cash is King” works for law enforcement also. A person forfeiting property or having property seized does not actually have to ever end up being a defendant. Aside from prearranged drug transactions, officers will often bring a narcotics dog to a traffic stop where a person has plenty of cash on hand, or cash found in what officers call a “drug roll” or “drug folds.” The dog will usually alert to traces of illegal drugs on the currency and it will be seized. Continue reading
Colorado and Washington Legalized a Plant
The above two states are our nation’s first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Possession of the plant is still a crime under federal law. The legal clinics and dispensaries that are selling weed in these two states could be federally prosecuted if and when the federal government decides to get involved. For now, it seems that the federal government is taking a hands off approach, allowing the states to regulate the plant on their own. After all, the federal government lets states exercise the enforcement of the death penalty or the abolition of the death penalty as they so choose. One would think if the individual states can be trusted with the decision to kill or not to kill their convicted denizens, well, they might be able to regulate a plant without federal intervention.
So Far the Tax Man Wins
According to Colorado’s governor, as reported by the Associated Press, John Hickenlooper, the tax revenue from legalized pot sales is projected to be 98 million dollars in the first fiscal year. This revenue is from a 12.9 percent sales tax rate and a 15 percent excise tax on recreational weed. Medical marijuana is subject to only a 2.9 percent sales tax.
Where The Weed Tax Will Go
Colorado’s governor has outlined a spending plan for the marijuana tax revenue. The money will be spent in the following areas: 1. youth use prevention 2. substance abuse treatment 3. public health 4. media campaigns regarding marijuana use 5. an anti driving while stoned campaign 6. a 105 bed residential treatment facility and 7. school construction.
Last week, the Okaloosa Sheriff’s office arrested four people in relation to the distribution of crack cocaine. According to a report by NWFDailynews.com, one man was allegedly selling the crack cocaine from a home on Pelham Road. The police report alleged that customers would buy the crack in the home and then the man allowed customers to use the crack in a trailer that was also on the property.
One man was charged with possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school zone, public nuisance, and paraphernalia charges. The other three were arrested on drug paraphernalia charges.
Possession With the Intent to Distribute – The Inference
In Florida, if a defendant is caught with a substantial amount of drugs, that person may be charged with “possession with the intent to distribute” rather than with simple possession depending on the surrounding circumstances. This may seem counterintuitive because, without any affirmative evidence suggesting that the defendant was engaging in the sale of the drugs (such as selling to an undercover agent), it would seem that it would be difficult to prove he intended to distribute the drugs.
Last month, the Mayor of the City of Hampton, Barry Layne Moore, was arrested for selling Oxycodone, a strong narcotic prescription drug. According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, the arrest prompted the sheriff of Bradford County to comment, “this isn’t Toronto,” referring to the several month long saga surrounding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his admitted crack cocaine use. The sheriff continued, “We will not tolerate illegal drug activity in my jurisdiction by anyone to include our elected officials.” It has yet to be seen if Mayor Moore will face any criminal charges or if he will be required to step down from his position.
Prescription Drug Crimes In Florida
In Florida, it is illegal to possess any prescription drug without a prescription. In fact, the possession and distribution of prescription drugs are crimes that are taken very seriously across all of Florida. Although many Floridians may not be aware, prescription drug charges can be even more serious than charges for possession, distribution, or manufacture of “street” drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.
To create a uniform system, the legislature has grouped all substances into a number of “Schedules” depending on the drug’s addictive qualities and public safety threat.
Last week, the trial of a man charged with the murder of his neighbor began in a Onslow County Superior Court. According to a report by JDNews.com, the prosecution has alleged that the man murdered his neighbor and took her prescription pills after she refused to sell him the pills. In the opening day of trial, the prosecution pointed to recorded conversations where the man spoke of his hostility toward the victim. The prosecution also alluded that it would present witnesses that would testify that the man confessed to them.
In his opening statement, the man’s defense attorney pointed out that these confessions are not the most reliable evidence against the accused because they came not from a recording, but from witnesses who may have something to gain from the man’s prosecution. Moreover, the man’s defense attorney claimed that it was not proper for the State to make the man wait three years to go to trial.
Before the jury could hear from more witnesses, however, the judge was notified that one of the jurors had lost her husband that morning and placed a pause on the proceedings while an alternate juror was selected.