The Fifth District Court of Appeal’s recent ruling in Celeste v. State touches on important legal principles that both a person charged with oxycodone trafficking in Florida and his or her lawyer should keep in mind in mounting a defense.

A Florida police officer stopped Jon M. Celeste after he was observed riding his bicycle at night without lights, a state law violation. Celeste produced a pill container with 28 oxycodone tablets after the officer asked him if he’d just put something in his pocket as the officer was approaching. Although Celeste told the officer that he had a prescription for the pills, the pill container label was illegible and Celeste did not have proof of prescription on him. The officer then searched Celeste, finding 20 more oxycodone pills in a separate plastic wrapper as well as $260 in 20 dollar bills and a list of names and numbers in his back pocket. Celeste was arrested for trafficking in oxycodone.

Although he testified in a preliminary hearing that he’d been prescribed painkillers following a job related injury and presented evidence of a valid oxycodone prescription, the trial court denied Celeste’s motion for acquittal on the trafficking charge. Specifically, the court found that the separately packaged pills, roll of 20s and list of names was sufficient evidence for a jury to consider. Following trial, the jury convicted Celeste on the oxycodone trafficking charge.

The Fifth District reversed the trial court’s ruling on the acquittal motion on appeal, however, finding that the State failed to meet its burden of proof. It stated that while the relevant statute “requires the State to prove that an accused knowingly sold, purchased, delivered, brought into Florida or possessed four or more grams of one of the specified controlled substances,” a person can nevertheless legally possess a controlled substance obtained with a valid prescription.

Furthermore, since Celeste was charged with selling the oxycodone, the State was required to present evidence showing that he actually sold it, not that he merely intended to sell it. “While the evidence presented may have been sufficient to prove that Mr. Celeste intended to sell some of his prescribed oxycodone, there is insufficient evidence that he actually did so,” the court held, comparing the case to Barnes v. State, a 2003 decision in which the court ruled that a box containing separately bagged marijuana and more than $4,000 in cash was sufficient to prove intent to sell an illegal substance.

Florida is a prime area for drug trafficking and, as a result, has one of the strictest drug trafficking laws in the country. The penalties for a drug trafficking conviction can range anywhere from several years to life in prison and include heavy fines.

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.

Related blog posts:
Ruling Makes it Easier for Drug Possession Defendants to Seek Alternative Sentencing – McGrill v. State
Florida Supreme Court Explains Hearsay and the Fellow Officer Rule – State v. Bowers
Can Police Use Your Silence Against You? Supreme Court Decides not to Decide