Trafficking conviction overturned, where baggie evidence was commingled

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When a person is accused of a drug crime with "intent to distribute," what exact offense will be charged, and the potential penalties, are generally determined by the amount of the drugs discovered in a search. Therefore, an argument that goes to the heart of the amount of the substance seized might lead to a lesser crime charged, with a much lighter punishment.

The recent case of Greenwade v. State shows how a conviction was reduced from drug trafficking to simple possession.

White powder discovered in a garage

The defendant in this case was sitting behind a table in his garage in Jacksonville, Florida, when sheriffs arrived to execute a search warrant. Although the defendant attempted to leave the scene, he was arrested. The defendant stated that he had been "set up," and that what the sheriffs sought was in the garage. The officers discovered a digital scale and nine one-ounce baggies, which the defendant admitted contained cocaine.

Each of the nine baggies was field tested and then delivered to the sheriff's property room, where the baggies were emptied into nine different envelopes. However, later, the testing forensic chemist testified that she had received one sealed bag, and was asked to test for any controlled substances in the powder. The chemical testing indicated the commingled powder, weighing over 200 grams, contained cocaine.

The defendant pled guilty to all charges, except for a drug trafficking charge. After a jury trial, the defendant was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of seven years, for trafficking in cocaine in an amount greater than 200 but less than 400 grams.

The defendant appealed this result, arguing that the state had improperly combined, tested and weighed the contents of the nine baggies together.

Commingling of baggies was improper

To support the defendant's conviction, one key element that had to be proven was that the quantity of the substance found met the statutory weight threshold. The Florida statutes defined and punished trafficking differently, depending on the chemical composition of the substance involved. For example, the distribution of counterfeit substances is punished less harshly.

Therefore, in order for the prosecution to prove the drug charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution was required to chemically prove that each individually wrapped baggie contained at least a mixture of a controlled substances, prior to combining the contents and determining if the contents met the statutory threshold for weight.

Thus, the trial court should have granted the motion for acquittal on the trafficking charge, and the case was remanded to the lower court for a reduction in sentencing to simple possession.

Heavy penalties for drug crimes

Drug-related crimes often carry extremely heavy penalties, and the prosecution tends to aggressively pursue the maximum punishment. If you are accused of such a crime, seek immediate representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and freedom.