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Orlando drug trafficking bust leads to arrest of 18 individuals

Following the completion of a time-consuming investigation, police in Orlando have arrested 18 individuals and charged them with drug trafficking offenses. The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation for the Orlando Police Department was responsible for the arrests. Officials say that the department had been monitoring four of the arrested individuals for quite a while before apprehending them. Allegedly, police investigations began late last year. Multiple agencies from Central Florida were involved in the investigation that ended with a recent drug raid. Authorities suspect that one of the arrested individuals was in charge of the alleged drug trafficking operation. The man has been arrested at least 27 times for various felony offenses. Most of the 18 suspects that were apprehended in this undercover operation have criminal histories involving violence, according to police. Now they will face even more charges largely related to drug offenses. Authorities believe that the supposed drug trafficking organization made use of an Orlando stash house where they stored marijuana and cocaine. Police claim that they found more than 14 ounces of cocaine and over 25 pounds of marijuana at the home. It should be stressed that those arrested in this drug trafficking case will have the opportunity to defend themselves in criminal court against the charges. Individuals suspected of drug crimes in Florida (no matter how large or small) may be able to mitigate their legal situation through the application of various criminal defense strategies. Some of these could prove successful in getting a suspected individual’s charges dropped or dismissed or to obtain a reduction in potential punishments in the event of a conviction. Source: News 13, “Alleged drug operation busted by Orlando MBI” No author given, May. 22, 2014

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Man posts Facebook picture that leads to drug sales arrest

A Florida man has been accused of selling drugs after he allegedly posted Facebook selfies of himself engaged in drug transactions. The 21-year-old man, who hails from Port St. Lucie, Florida, was allegedly broadcasting his illegal activities. He is even said to have posted a picture of himself next to a sheriff’s deputy while in the process of conducting a drug transaction. The south Florida sheriff’s department that arrested the man announced the incident on its own Facebook page. The agency also re-posted the different photos that the man had allegedly put up online. One photo depicted the man in his car next to a sheriff’s deputy car. Also in the picture and allegedly in the man’s possession are cash and drugs, which police say were from the man’s drug sales crimes. Police posted pictures of their own, however. One picture was of the man vending narcotics to an undercover law enforcement officer. Another showed the individual getting booked into the jailhouse. The photographic evidence will likely be admissible as evidence in court and will ultimately be used against the man during his criminal defense proceedings. Facebook is a powerful social tool for connecting with friends, and it can be a fun experience for all age and population demographics. Nevertheless, those accused of crimes must be very careful in the way they choose to use social media while in the midst of criminal court proceedings. Also, though, just because the prosecution discovers seemingly negative evidence does not mean that it will ultimately be admitted to be used against them in court following a spirited criminal defense. Source: firstcoastnews.com, “Man posts drug dealing selfie online, gets arrested” Travis Gibson, May. 11, 2014

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Ex-police officer faces drug trafficking charges in federal court

A Florida police officer, who was formerly employed by the West Palm Beach Police Department, was terminated last year on allegations that he disregarded police department policy. Now, he has been charged with selling prescription drugs while he was on duty as a police officer. The 45-year-old man is facing the drug trafficking charges in federal court. The policeman, who was employed for 18 years by the West Palm Beach Police Department, lost his job in August 2013. He was fired following his failure to respond immediately to a call at a high school. However, the man’s employment record allegedly contains a number of infractions that required disciplinary action over the history of his career. Federal prosecutors claim that the ex-officer was operating a drug trafficking business, illegally selling steroids and prescription drugs while on the job. For example, the criminal complaint accuses the man of delivering drugs while donning his police uniform in March 2013. It further alleges that he sold prescription drugs illegally to different individuals in April 2013. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the man could spend anywhere from five years to as much as a lifetime in prison for these crimes if he is convicted. It is important to note that, in spite of the severity of the drug trafficking allegations against this Florida police officer, he will remain innocent in the eyes of the law until — and only if — he is found guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Obtaining a guilty verdict is often more difficult for the prosecution to achieve than it might readily appear. Also, if the man is unable to obtain a not guilty verdict on all the charges he faces, he may be able to get certain charges dropped and/or reach a plea bargain deal that could dramatically reduce the severity of the final judgement in his case. Source: Palm Beach Post, “Former West Palm Beach police officer accused of selling steroids, prescription drugs while on duty” Julius Whigham II, Apr. 12, 2014

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Ryan Malone facing DUI and cocaine charges

Ryan Malone, a forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning, is facing both DUI and cocaine charges after being arrested in Florida. Malone was driving in a large SUV when he made a left turn and ran over a curb. This was at 3:15 in the morning, and nearby officers were already watching the vehicle as this happened. The officers responded by pulling the vehicle over. They thought that Malone was driving under the influence, but he would not do the field sobriety tests, as is his right. They took him in and gave him a breath test at the station. He took the test twice, and tests indicated that he had a blood alcohol content of .112 and .116. Both are over the legal limit in Florida, which is .08. While they were arresting him, though, Malone’s pockets were searched. In one of his back pockets, the arresting officers found cocaine. For that reason, he is now going to face drug charges as well. It is unclear if he had used the cocaine prior to driving the vehicle or if he simply had it with him at the time of the arrest. In either case, possession and use of cocaine are illegal, so he will still have to face the charges. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone is a famous athlete, anyone who is arrested on DUI or drug charges deserves a fair and unbiased trial. Being charged with a crime does not make someone automatically guilty. Guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. Criminal defense attorneys help ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected. Source: USA Today, “Ryan Malone charged with DUI, cocaine possession” No author given, Apr. 13, 2014

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$2 million meth bust in Polk County

Drug offenses can be quite serious, especially when there is a large quantity of drugs involved. Being convicted of a drug crime can have serious consequences. According to Florida statute 893.135(1)(f), the sale, purchase, manufacture, delivery, or knowledgeable possession of more than 200 or more grams of meth is a 1st degree felony. The possible penalties include a 15-year prison sentence and a minimum mandatory fine of $250,000. In what will go down as one of the largest methamphetamine busts in Florida in recent years, cops in Polk County seized a massive amount of meth and arrested 13 people on trafficking charges Wednesday. Twelve suspects remain at large. Operation Hoodoo Voodoo netted meth with a street value of $2 million, according to information released Wednesday in a press conference hosted by the Polk County sheriff. Operation Hoodoo Voodoo was a lengthy, six-month local, state and federal investigation involving 25 suspected drug distributors, some of whom police say were stockpiling military-style guns. The investigation resulted in seizure of 44 pounds of methamphetamine and 106 weapons, as well as tactical gear, a grenade launcher, semiautomatic rifles, bulletproof vests and lots of ammunition. According to police, the area of distribution for the meth included various counties in Central Florida, including Polk, Osceola, Orange and Seminole. Police says the drugs were being routed into the country from Mexico in a drug ring that spread from Lakeland, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, Las Vegas, Nevada, and California. The operation was given the name Operation Hoodoo Voodoo due to reports that the alleged ringleader of the organization consulted with a Voodoo priest in order to make decisions involving the organization. Regardless of guilt or innocence, those facing criminal charges are entitled to the best possible criminal defense. Defendants should never allow their rights to be usurped, since everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Source: Bay New 9, “$2 million worth of meth seized in massive drug bust in Polk County” Saundra Weathers, Mar. 19, 2014

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Latest Florida crime lab scandal speaks to broader issues

Earlier this month, a former employee of a Florida crime lab was taken into custody. He was then formally charged with switching drug evidence held within the lab for over-the-counter medications and selling the stolen drug evidence. In all, the man is charged with nine separate counts of drug trafficking, 12 counts of evidence tampering and grand theft. While this is a tragic and frustrating case for the man and his family, it also speaks to broader issues affecting the criminal defense of accused persons and the criminal justice system generally. When an individual is unjustly accused of wrongdoing, his or her primary hope of having the case against him or her dismissed is that the evidence in the case will clearly indicate that the crime was committed by another. But if evidence is tampered with, innocent persons can potentially be found guilty of crimes they did not commit. In addition, evidence tampering can lead to the unwarranted release of individuals who perhaps should be held accountable in some way for their actions. Evidence used in criminal cases has the power to affect lives significantly. As a result, it must be treated with extreme care and respect. If crime labs cannot ensure that evidence will be properly handled, accused persons should not be bound by negative consequences associated with tampered evidence. In addition, better drug treatment options must be made available within the system. Perhaps if individuals were given better rehabilitative options, they would not feel compelled to commit lower-level drug crimes like the ones committed by the former Florida lab tech. Source: CNN, “Florida crime lab chemist arrested on charges of selling stolen drug evidence,” Nick Valencia and Steve Almasy, Feb. 4, 2014

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Justice Department agenda aimed at low-level drug offenders

Never before has the Justice Department approached an issue involving unfair sentencing within the American justice system quite like this. Certainly, presidents have granted clemency to individuals before in low numbers. However, the Justice Department recently encouraged both criminal defense attorneys and low-level offenders convicted of certain federal drug crimes to submit clemency applications en masse. Specifically, the Justice Department is trying to right a sentence-related injustice to the extent that it currently can. No one can give individuals who have served overly-long and unjust sentences back the time they have spent behind bars. However, the Justice Department can help many individuals return to wider society earlier than they had expected to. As we have previously noted, lawmakers recently revised a sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine users. Thanks to both Congress and the Supreme Court, individuals sentenced after the law was passed are now subject to relatively just sentencing terms. But this revision to existing law has done nothing for individuals sentenced under previously aggressive and unjust laws. In order to better address this current disparity, the Justice Department is encouraging anyone eligible for clemency to submit an application. Generally, the individual applying for clemency must have served some portion of his or her sentence resulting from a low-level federal drug conviction and this sentence must have been handed down before the revised law took full effect. In addition, applicants generally must not have committed violent acts in association with their crimes. If you or a loved one may be a good candidate for clemency, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with questions. Source: New York Times, “Justice Dept. Starts Quest for Inmates to Be Freed,” Matt Apuzzo, Jan. 30, 2014

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President commutes sentences for federal drug offenders

Last month, the president used his executive powers to commute the sentences of individuals convicted of federal offenses related to crack cocaine. Each of the eight inmates whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life imprisonment and had served a minimum of 15 years imprisonment so far. This gesture was both concrete and serves as a symbolic step towards even greater reform of sentencing for federal drug crimes than the Obama administration has already taken. These sentence commutations were particularly significant as they are the first acts of retroactive relief granted to inmates who likely would have been sentenced to far shorter terms of imprisonment had they been charged with their crimes under current and reformed drug policies. As the president recently explained, each of the inmates affected by these commutations was sentenced under the grossly unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity that affected individuals convicted of crack versus powder cocaine offenses until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity. The president noted that, “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.” The Obama administration has taken numerous steps over the past several years to right drug sentencing inequalities and to reduce the federal prison population. This latest round of commutations signals further commitment to this cause by the administration. Source: The New York Times, “Obama Commutes Sentences for 8 in Crack Cocaine Cases,” Charlie Savage, Dec. 19, 2013

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4 Florida residents arrested for conspiracy of making meth

Four individuals have recently been arrested under suspicion of making illegal drugs. Florida police suspect that the accused persons manufactured methamphetamine out of a camper trailer in the Pine Lakes area near Eustis. Each person was arrested after a search of the trailer, and each faces charges of conspiracy to manufacture meth. According to the report, police received an anonymous tip about suspicious activity in a camper trailer near Eustis. When the officers arrived, they purportedly smelled a chemical odor, and they claim to have found “meth-making items” presumably outside the trailer. They asked permission from the residents to search inside the camper, and they were granted permission. Inside the trailer, officers supposedly found a one-pot meth lab containing meth oil, and they also purportedly found finished meth. The officers also suspect that the four were selling meth in the area, but the report does not state what brought them to this hypothesis. Each individual was arrested and is currently being held in the Lake County Jail for an unspecified amount of bond. Each Florida resident was charged with conspiracy to manufacture meth, and one individual was additionally charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, meth manufacturing and meth trafficking. No matter the amount or the severity of the charges one faces, every accused person is considered innocent until, and only if, proven guilty in court. Each individual accused in this case would benefit from accumulating information pertaining to their cases in advance in an effort to make the most informed and beneficial decisions as their criminal proceedings move forward. Source: Orlando Sentinel, Lake deputies arrest four accused of cooking meth, Erica Rodriguez, Dec. 18, 2013

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The Absence of Justice in Life Sentences for Non-Violent Crimes

We have previously discussed that one of the primary aims of the American criminal justice system is to hold criminal offenders appropriately accountable for their actions. Tragically, decades of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and other “tough on crime” approaches have produced punishments that are often grossly disproportionate to the criminal wrongdoing of low-level convicted offenders. A large number of individuals serving life behind bars are individuals who have been convicted of low-level and non-violent drug crimes. Certainly, criminal laws should be enforced and those who break these laws should in some way be held accountable for their actions. But, during an age in which study after study indicates that lengthy prison sentences serve neither the low-level, non-violent offender nor the taxpayers’ best interests, life-long sentences for these kinds of crimes are increasingly illogical and are becoming nearly impossible to justify. According to the New York Times, nearly 3,300 prisoners were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for low-level, non-violent property and drug crimes in 2012. If the justice system approached these cases with the goals of rehabilitating offenders and outfitting them with the tools to live lives free of crime instead of locking them away for life, society generally and taxpayers specifically would benefit tremendously. The ultimate aim of the criminal justice system is evident in its very title. If the sentences that offenders are being assigned are not just and proportional to their crimes, something in the system has broken. The fact that thousands of low-level and non-violent drug and property crime offenders are currently sentenced to die in prison is certainly evidence that justice is currently absent in the sentencing of these individuals. Source: New York Times, “Sentenced to a Slow Death,” Nov. 16, 2013

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