Florida Presumption of Guilt: Drug “Crimes” with No Criminal Intent

With the advent of changes in drug laws throughout the country, many are confused as to what the drug laws apply to, as well as what one needs to prove to be found not guilty. Many believe that lax drug laws apply to citizens of Jacksonville. One needs a skilled attorney to decipher the laws that govern what statutes currently apply and what charges one might face while being an innocent bystander.

Florida is one of two states with drug possession statutes that do not require the government to prove criminal intent. The statute permits defendants to offer an affirmative defense of “unwilling possession” under which the defendant, not the state, has the burden of proof. The state Supreme Court, ruling the recent case of Florida v. Adkins, has rejected a challenge to that statute filed on behalf of dozens of defendants awaiting trial on drug possession charges.

Regardless of the fact that the Florida legislature had the authority to criminalize drug possession, the statute dealt within this ruling would be illegitimate because it does not require the state to prove the existence of intent on the part of the accused, forcing many to suffer a strict punishment for a crime they truly did not know they were committing nor did they intend to commit.

In order for an act to be a crime, it must involve the deliberate violation of a clear and intelligible statute by an act that inflicts injury to another person. Individual drug consumption – although unwise – doesn’t injure anybody else; as a victimless act, it should not be construed as a crime. The same is true of mere possession of narcotics, which – as the Florida statute acknowledges – doesn’t even necessarily involve criminal intent.

Under the Florida v. Adkins ruling, however, people can be convicted of a supposed drug crime on the basis of mere physical proximity to contraband they did not know was on their property or among their personal effects.

Because of this new ruling, the prosecution would in effect be able to imprison a number of people in a number of different situations. A letter carrier who delivers a package containing unprescribed Adderall or a roommate who is unaware that the person who shares his apartment has hidden illegal drugs in the common areas of the home could be accused of drug possession.

Travelers have mistakenly retrieved from a luggage carousel bags identical to their own containing Oxycodone, marijuana and other illicit substances. For others, custody battles and nasty divorce disputes may end in one angry party attempting to frame their ex by planting cocaine in the other’s home in an effort to get the upper hand in a bitter custody dispute.

Many simply dismiss these possibilities – at least some of which have been validated through actual court experience – by insisting that the statute’s “affirmative defense” provision addresses the rights of the defendant. This violates common law principles traceable to ancient Roman law. It forces the defendant to overcome a presumption of guilt.

Unfortunately, in many situations, the innocent will from the start be presumed guilty. The innocent will instead be forced to assert affirmative defenses, whereupon the possession of a controlled substance, whether actual or constructive, will give rise to a permissive presumption that the possessor knew of the illicit nature of the substance. Many have no realistic choice but to shoulder the burden of proof and present evidence to overcome that presumption. The innocent will then hear their jury instructed on the permissive presumption that they knew of the illicit nature of the substance in question.

There are many options one may choose when charged with a crime, but these options are subject to disappear the longer one waits to choose. Fortunately, one does have an option for relief. One should contact an experienced attorney who can work with the Judge. When one’s case is pled to a Judge who sees a remorseful accused party, one’s punishment often times is extremely small or nonexistent.

Fortunately, if one obtains an experienced Jacksonville drug crimes defense attorney to fight for one’s case and ensure one’s rights are protected, one can be sure that one will not be a victim in a fight one cannot win on one’s own.

The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

Additional Source: Florida presumption of guilt: drug crimes with no criminal intent, Republic Magazine

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