JSO RELEASES DETAILS OF MONTH LONG DRUG OPERATION
A recent News4Jax report gives details into a four month operation in the Oceanway area of Jacksonville’s Northside. The operation targeted narcotics violations ranging from simple misdemeanors up through first degree felony drug trafficking charges. The operation was nicknamed “Lockdown in O-Town.” Sheriff Williams stated the operation was a result of several complaints from residents of drug activity in the Northside area of town.
Williams stated that the investigations focused JSO undercovers on four areas in which narcotics detectives even spent nights sleeping in hotels on Dunn Avenue to build relationships with known drug dealers in the neighborhood. The narcotics purchased or seized by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office included methamphetamine, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, several different forms of prescriptions pills, and marijuana. Four structures were condemned by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office DART team. One structure was a methamphetamine laboratory. Motor Vehicles and other property were seized and will be handled by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office forfeiture unit. Sheriff Williams stated in what must clearly be taken out of context that all of these individuals were predators taking advantage of addiction and that these people were arrested for dealing. The press release contained several mugshots of those arrested as well as their charges. Several people were not arrested for dealing, in fact several were arrested for simple possession, one man even for Resisting Arrest Without Violence, a first degree misdemeanor. Perhaps the individual resisting arrest was a drug dealer, perhaps not, however the Sheriff certainly labeled the entire operation as a bunch of dealers. The point of the press conference is certainly showing the public that we, the police, took these 60 drug dealers of the street, however a review of the cases sheds different light on what actually happened.
REVIEW OF SOME OF THE CASES
Since Florida has a very broad and open book policy on Public Records any citizen can access information regarding what actually happened in these cases, at least from reports generated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
One man arrested, Clifford Williams, was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. He was arrested back on December 6, 2016. In first appearance court he plead no contest, and was released based on time he had already served and assessed court fines. Clearly, this is not an individual targeted in this large scale multi month operation; however, in the ever apparent numbers game, Mr. Williams name and mugshot have been added to the press release.
Amber Lambert was arrested on December 6, 2016 for four counts of possession of a controlled substance (third degree felony) and one count of possession of paraphernalia (first degree misdemeanor). A review of her arrest report shows Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant and located Lambert and a co-defendant in a room along with Heroin, Fentynol, Cocaine, Crystal Meth (Methamphetamine), and drug paraphernalia. Lambert and the co-defendant denied any knowledge of the narcotics found. Lambert’s case was dropped by the State Attorney’s Office on December 28, 2016. The likely legal issue in Lambert’s case is how could the State of Florida prove Lambert’s knowledge of the illegal narcotics located by the Sheriff’s Office. Based on the arrest report, JSO would not be able to prove possession of any of the narcotics in regards to Lambert. The co-defendant’s case remains open at this time. The difference in the co-defendant’s case may be the basis for the search warrant. Often times narcotics detectives purchase drugs from a house over a period of time. From there they will apply for a search warrant to raid the home of the drug dealer. If narcotics detectives have previously purchased drugs from an individual it can be used as knowledge of the presence of illegal drugs at the time the search warrant is issued. The co-defendant’s arrest report is not currently available, so it is unclear what theory the State of Florida is proceeding under at this time.
Jody Hatcher was arrested and charged with Resisting an Officer Without Violence, a first degree misdemeanor on January 25, 2017. Hatcher’s arrest arose during a search warrant executed by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in which Hatcher did not follow commands of the officers and refused to place his hands behind his back. There is nothing in the arrest report that details any of Hatcher’s involvement in the narcotics world, however he has made the “we are tough on crime” list announced at the news conference. A review of court records shows that the defendant likely could not bond out of jail after first appearance court and remained incarcerated for 34 days until he entered a plea at his arraignment. It is all too common for the poor to not have the resources to bond out of jail, thus a plea being their quickest route to freedom.
Several individuals were charged with Trafficking in Heroin, however none have been charged with Trafficking in Cocaine. Trafficking charges in Florida are an overgrown version of possession. The weight of the drug taken into evidence is what determines if a trafficking charge is applicable. The lowest weight of for trafficking for heroin is 4 grams or more. The lowest weight for trafficking in cocaine is 28 grams or more. It shows very clear to the trained eye that this entire operation was set up to arrest the low hanging fruit of street level dealers and addicts. The lower level of traffickings are first degree felonies, punishable by up to thirty years in prison. The lower level trafficking charges also carry a three year minimum mandatory sentence and a $50,000.00 fine.
In an effort to crack down on the heroin overdoses in the area as well as across the country it is no surprise that the narcotics detectives placed an emphasis on targeting heroin dealers and addicts. In any of the sales of heroin charges as well as the sale of cocaine charges the State of Florida will be required to prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt. First, that the suspect sold, manufactured, delivered, purchased a certain substance. Secondly, the State must prove the substance was heroin or cocaine. And finally, that the suspect had knowledge of the presence of the substance. The State of Florida will rely on several factors when taking a sales charge to trial. To prove the first element, that the individual did sell or deliver an illegal substance, will come into court through the testimony of the undercover narcotics detectives or confidential informants, as well as likely a recorded DVD that captured the sale itself. The video will be played to the jury so the jurors themselves can watch what happened. A good video will capture the suspect’s face, voice, the transaction itself where the money and narcotics are exchanged. To prove the second element, the State of Florida will call a chemist from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who will have tested the substance and will testify within a scientific certainty what illegal narcotics were contained in the substance sold to the undercovers. The trafficking trial would go in a similar fashion. To convict the defendant of trafficking, the same Florida Department of Law Enforcement c, hemist will simply testify to the weight of the substance. The purity level of the narcotics does not come into play under Florida law. Sheriff Williams at the end of the press conference did acknowledge that this operation will not have a huge impact on the flow of Narcotics (drugs) on the streets as these individuals are certainly street level and most are addicts.
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 handle plenty of drug cases and give free consultations and/or jail visits. You and your loved ones will need an experienced attorney to review the police reports, the sales video, the arrest and/or search warrants, and other pieces of evidence in the case. 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.