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Florida drug possession law: no intent needed?

It may seem logical to Florida readers to think that a person cannot be convicted of a crime if they do not know that they are committing it. However, for some offenses, our state disagrees. In fact, this is in contrast with 48 other states across the nation. Here in our state, if you are found to have drugs in your possession, even if you were not aware that you had them, you can be convicted of drug possession charges.

Under current Florida law, a person who faces drug possession charges must prove to the court that they did not know that the materials in their possession were illegal drugs. However, in most other states, police would be forced to establish that you did know there were drugs in order to obtain a conviction. The difference shifts the burden of proof to the accused.

In addition to drug possession charges for materials in a person's care, a person in Florida can be convicted of drug possession for materials in the area near or around them. Previously, prosecutors would have had to prove that the individual charged with a crime not only knew what the drugs were, but also knew that they were present. The recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court removes the concept of intent, and states that the legislature has created laws that aim to curtail all drug-related activity, regardless of the intent of someone found to be in possession of illegal drugs.

What this means for those accused of possession or who wish to avoid similar charges is simply whether illegal drugs were on their person or in their presence. This can be a challenge for some defendants who were legitimately unaware of the contents of materials in their care and who have been charged with drug possession. It is possible that the matter may not be settled until it reaches the nation's highest courts.

Source: opposingviews.com, "Odd Florida Law: Possession Without Intent a Crime," Aug. 13, 2012

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Ian F. Mann, P.A.
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