As Florida law enforcement continues to crack down on prescription drug use, it is important for legal drug users to remain aware of their rights. In State v. Deaton, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains once again that an officer must have probable cause to arrest a person for drug possession and determines that holding one pill of oxycodone for which the person claims he has a prescription is not enough to satisfy this legal standard.
Wallace Deaton was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of oxycodone after a police officer found a single pill on Deaton following a traffic stop. The officer stopped Deaton upon observing him park improperly. According to the officer, Deaton consented to a search of his person, during which the officer found one 30 mg oxycodone in the pocket of Deaton’s pants. Although Deaton asserted that he had a prescription for the drug at home, the officer arrested him on the spot.
A trial court later granted Deaton’s motion to suppress the seizure of the pill, in which he argued that the pill alone did not give the police officer probable cause to arrest Deaton. “[T]here was nothing in and of itself in terms of the nature of the pill and how the pill was being carried on his person that gave [the officer] probable cause to arrest for the felony,” the trial court explained.
The Fourth District agreed on appeal. In order to make an arrest without a warrant, a police officer must have probable cause to believe that the person committed a felony crime. The court said that a police officer has probable cause where “when the circumstances are sufficient to cause a reasonably cautious person to believe that the person arrested is guilty of the offense charged,” quoting its 2004 decision in Maily v. Jenne.
Here, the court noted that oxycodone is unlike other illegal drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.) in that a person may possess it lawfully, as long as her or she has a valid prescription. Given that Deaton had only one pill in his pocket, the court said the circumstances implied that he was the “ultimate user” of the drug, that he did not have more oxycodone in his possession and that he was not attempting to sell it. “As the circuit judge noted, it is not unusual for a traveler with a valid prescription to separate a pill from a prescription bottle for later consumption,” the Fourth District concluded. The court further noted that Deaton did not run or otherwise attempt to flea when approached by the officer, actions that may have signified guilt.
As a result, the Fourth District affirmed the lower court’s ruling suppressing the pill evidence.
As this case makes clear, oxycodone charges raise unique issues in Florida criminal law. If you are facing a prescription drug trafficking charge in Florida, it is essential to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney who can effectively defend your rights. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help negotiate with prosecutors, find legal defenses that can exonerate you or reduce your sentence, fight for your interests and achieve the best results possible.
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