Florida Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Drug Possession Law
Lakeland, FL (Law Firm Newswire) July 23, 2012 – On July 12, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on a state drug law that has been the subject of controversy. In a 5-2 ruling, the Court upheld the law, which requires that defendants prove they did not know they were carrying an controlled substance.
The 2002 law shifts the burden of proof to defendants, unlike nearly every other state, where prosecutors are required to prove that the defendant knew the substance was illegal.
“This opinion by the Florida Supreme Court violates a bedrock principle of the American criminal justice system,” said Thomas Grajek, a Polk County criminal defense attorney. “In America, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Apparently the state of Florida is an exception.”
Grajek added, “Prosecutors should be required to prove every element of a crime, including criminal intent. This law turns the criminal justice system upside down, presuming you are guilty until you prove your innocence.”
The Court’s opinion follows a ruling by an Orlando federal judge, who declared the entire law unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven’s July 2011 decision resulted in a number of drug possession cases being dismissed around the state.
However, Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady said that the law does not violate due process, and that the legislature had a clear intent to eliminate the need for prosecutors to prove that defendants had knowledge that they were carrying an illegal substance.
It is still necessary for prosecutors to prove that the defendant was aware that he was in possession of something. If the defendant maintains that he did not know it was an illegal substance, he must raise that as an affirmative defense.
Justice Canady said that in the “unusual circumstance” where a person is unaware he is carrying an illegal substance, the defendant would have recourse to the affirmative defense.
Thomas Grajek is an aggressive criminal trial attorney with experience in the courtroom who will speak up in court for his clients.
Thomas C. Grajek
206 Easton Drive, Suite 102
Lakeland, FL 33803
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