Florida Supreme Court Reverses Drug Conviction

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court held that the trial court should have suppressed evidence obtained by Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) when officers went beyond the scope of a search warrant by tracking the real-time movements of a defendant’s cell phone.

BSO had obtained a search warrant for the cellphone of Sean Alvin Tracey. The warrant permitted BSO to obtain phone numbers sent or received by Tracey’s phone. However, the warrant did not permit BSO to track the phone’s location. BSO’s tracking of the real-time movements of Tracey’s phone, based on pings from cell towers, led to polcie surveillance of Tracey, and the ultimate confiscation of a kilo of cocaine and $23,000 in cash.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the evidence obtained from the cell tower tracking of Tracey’s phone should have been suppressed. The case was remanded to the trial court, which means that the prosecution will either have to go forward without the evidence, or dismiss the case.

The Supreme Court’s decision, authored by Chief Justice Labarga, states:

“We conclude that Tracey had a subjective expectation of privacy in the location signals transmitted solely to enable the private and personal use of his cell hone, even on public roads, and that he did not voluntarily convey that information to the service provider for any purpose other than to enable use of his cell phone for its intended purpose.”

Essentially, it was the Court’s decision that the scope of a warrant shouldn’t be expanded to include the location of a person just because that person turned on his or her cell phone:

“… Because cell phones are indispensable to so many people and are normally carried on one’s person, cell phone tracking can easily invade the right to privacy in one’s home or other private areas, a matter that the government cannot always anticipate and one which, when it occurs, is clearly a Fourth Amendment violation. The Supreme Court noted in Riley that “modern cell phones . . . are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of the human anatomy. A smart phone of the sort taken from Riley was unheard of ten years ago; a significant majority of American adults now own such phones.” . . . This real risk of “inadvertent” violation of Fourth Amendment rights is not a risk worth imposing on the citizenry when it is not an insurmountable task for the government to obtain a warrant based on probable cause when such tracking is truly justified.”

The full decision can be found on the Florida Supreme Court’s website here: Tracey v. State

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Ending the War on Drugs

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, published an interesting article on ending the War on Drugs this week which included a discussion of sentencing guidelines.

According to the article, the United States currently keeps more people in prison than any other country in the world:

“More than 2.4 million people languish in federal, state and county prisons, many of them non-violent drug users serving life sentences triggered by misguided three-strike laws that don’t distinguish between petty theft and armed robbery. Prisons everywhere are overcrowded, while law enforcement and judicial resources are wasted. It’s a travesty that has created a vicious and inescapable cycle of incarceration, ruining the lives of thousands of non-violent offenders in the process.”

Branson references the “War on Drugs,” which was initiated by President Richard Nixon over 40 years ago, as a “spectacular failure,” citing to the more than $1 trillion spent battling the war and the tens of thousands of lives lost in law enforcement, while the demand for drugs remains as strong as ever.

Within the article, Branson compassionately argues that the solution is sentencing reform:

“Current drug laws need a whole range of fixes, but there is one issue where relatively simple changes in the law could literally mean the difference between a life behind bars and a fresh start for thousands, while saving millions in taxpayer funds: I’m talking about sentencing reform.”

The complete article can be found here: “Let’s Fix It: End the War on Drugs.”

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.

Marijuana Ban in Boynton Beach?

The Boynton Beach City Commission is to vote Tuesday night on whether or not they should have a medical marijuana hearing on October 21, 2014. If the commission votes in favor of the hearing, Boynton Beach citizens would be able to discuss whether or not the city should ban businesses in the city from producing or distributing medical marijuana. A potential ban could last up to 1 year.

The ban would depend upon whether Amendment 2 to the November Ballot is passed. Presently, as of January 1, 2015, authorized Florida doctors may begin writing prescriptions for authorized strains of marijuana. However, the passage of Amendment 2 would allow for much broader medical use of marijuana. Amendment 2 proposes legalizing marijuana for a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions a doctor believes it likely that the benefit of the medical use of marijuana would outweigh the potential health risks. Additionally, the proposed amendment would allow for smoking marijuana, instead of solely permitting the ingestion of a cannabis oil. Thus, the concern in Boynton Beach is of the unforeseen impact that the opening of medical marijuana stores would have on the city.

It is important to note that Florida marijuana laws still do not authorize the private/recreational use or growing of marijuana. Possession of Marijuana (without a prescription) is prosecuted as a violation of Florida Statute 893.13; possession of under 20 grams of marijuana constitutes a misdemeanor in the state of Florida, punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail, possession of 25 pounds of marijuana, or 300 or more marijuana plants constitutes a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in Florida State Prison.

Drug charges are serious and are heavily prosecuted in the State of Florida. Anyone facing marijuana charges in Palm Beach County should contact a knowledgeable Palm Beach Criminal Defense attorney.

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.

Drug War Statistics

With Florida’s new legislation legalizing specific forms of medical marijuana (a further description can be found here and here), the War on Drugs in the US has been a popular topic of discussion.

In 2012 alone, 749,825 people were charged with marijuana charges, and of those, approximately 88 percent of the charges (658,231 people) were simple possession arrests. More Drug War Statistics can be found here: Drug War Statistics.

If marijuana is further legalized in Florida by way of the broader spectrum medical use as placed on the November 2014 election ballot, it will be interesting to see the effect it will have on the Florida criminal justice system. Drug charges are heavily prosecuted in the State of Florida, including Palm Beach County, and often, prosecutors are able to add additional charges, such as weapons charges, after a search based on marijuana reveals evidence of additional crimes. Florida police officers often make arrests that stem from the odor of marijuana. For example, a simple traffic stop for speeding could turn into a vehicle search based upon the odor of marijuana and result in criminal charges. A simple knock and talk could turn into a full house search if the police arrive, smell the odor of marijuana, and obtain a warrant. If Florida ultimately legalizes marijuana, it may be much more difficult for police officers to make arrests and search suspects based on the odor of marijuana alone.

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.

Palm Beach Meth Manufacturing Charges

A palm beach county man was arrested this morning on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine after a search of his home revealed possession of equipment used to manufacture meth, such as plastic bottles containing white residue, within his apartment. The police were allegedly there regarding a domestic violence incident.

Florida Statute 893.139 make it a second degree felony to possess equipment with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance like meth. Second Degree Felonies in the State of Florida are punishable by up to 15 years in Florida State Prison and a $10,000 fine, in addition to other related penalties. Additionally, Florida Statute 893.135 makes it a First Degree Felony to manufacture 14 grams or more of methamphetamine, which is considered trafficking in amphetamines, and has required minimum mandatory sentences. Manufacturing between 14 and 28 grams requires a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 3 years and a $50,000 fine. Manufacturing between 28 and 200 grams of meth requires a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 7 years, and a $100,000 fine. Manufacturing 200 grams or more of meth requires  a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years and a $250,000 fine. Finally, manufacturing 400 grams or more of meth is a capital felony, punishable by life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Meth charges in Florida are serious; especially regarding the manufacturing of meth. Anyone charged with a drug crime in Florida should speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney.

 

Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.