Do First Time Drug Offenders Face Jail Time?

Everyone arrested for the first time is justifiably scared. The questions racing through your head just keep multiplying.  

What’s going to happen next? Will you be released? What will your family think? Will you lose your job? Will you go to jail? What should I do?  

First-time drug offenders have opportunities to resolve their criminal cases that are not available to most others. Experienced drug crime defense lawyers are essential to make sure you get the best possible outcome in your case. 

The law does provide for “possible” jail sentences for virtually all drug crimes, whether they are your first arrest or your fifth. In most Florida first-time drug possession offenses, a jail sentence is not imposed. However, the result of your prosecution depends on a variety of factors, including age, which drug is involved, the volume of drugs involved, your role in the crime, whether any violence or weapons were involved, your prior record, and whether you have substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction.  

With the wrong combination of factors, a first-time arrestee could be sentenced to jail time. With a skilled Tampa drug defense lawyer representing you, your best outcome should be realized. 

Criminal defense lawyers understand your fear and uncertainty during such a shocking experience. At Stechschulte Nell, we want you to understand everything you need to know about your charges, how the law applies to your case, and what the possible outcomes could be. More importantly, our experienced drug defense lawyers can advise you about what defense strategies are in your best interest, and how your case might best be resolved. 



Florida Drug Laws & Penalties


Whether a first-time drug arrest results in any jail time hinges on the facts of your case. Florida law treats different drug crimes with varying degrees of severity. For example, possessing a small amount of cocaine in your pocket is very different than being involved in the transport or delivery of two kilos of the same drug. Obviously, the nature of the charge and its possible outcome is much less serious for the first-time drug possession case than it is for the first-time drug delivery case. 

Florida drug laws and penalties are defined primarily by the kind of drug involved, its quantity, and whether the accused was merely possessing it or was manufacturing or distributing the drug.  


Identification of Scheduled Drug Involved 


The first and most important factor in weighing the seriousness of any drug prosecution and predicting how it might be resolved is the identity of the drug involved. The federal government categorized all controlled substances subject to criminal prosecution in what they call Schedules. There are 5 Drug Schedules, listing those considered most addictive or dangerous in Schedule I, and those considered progressively less so in Schedules II, III, IV, and V. Interestingly though, marijuana remains listed as a Schedule I drug despite widespread recognition as being medicinally useful and less likely to be dangerous or addictive. 

It is also noteworthy to point out that while heroin, LSD, and ecstasy (MDMA) are Schedule I drugs, other drugs listed in Schedule II are also very dangerous, including cocaine and fentanyl. So, the assigned Schedule is not necessarily determinative of the case’s outcome. 


Quantity of Drugs Involved 


The second most important factor affecting the outcome in a first-offense drug case is the volume of drugs involved.  

Possessing a small amount of heroin, cocaine, LSD, or ecstasy is a third-degree felony in Florida, carrying a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison. 

Possessing a larger amount of those same drugs, 10 grams or more which is less than half an ounce, is a first degree that may result in a 30-year prison sentence. 


Drug Pretrial Intervention Court for First Time Drug Offenders  


Florida enacted laws to decrease the number of persons jailed for drug offenses who could have benefited from rehabilitative drug treatment programs. Not only is this approach to drug crime more just for Floridians living with substance use disorders or drug addiction, but it is also much more cost-effective for the state.  

If a defendant in a drug prosecution fits the criteria to participate in the Adult Drug Pretrial Intervention Court (DPIC) program, their case is placed on a track that could result in a dismissal of all charges, and the defendant can move forward with no conviction record. The entire case, including the records of your arrest, can be expunged from the record.  

Here’s how the program works in Tampa and Hillsborough County. The eligibility requirements for the program are as follows: 

  • defendant must be an adult (18 or over) and be charged with possession of drugs or a similar offense, 
  • defendant must be a first-time felony offender 
  • defendant must be participating in the program for the first time (no second chances) 
  • defendant must waive their speedy trial rights 
  • defendant must admit to drug problem and willingly agree to drug treatment 
  • no one charged with selling or delivery drugs is eligible 

If you and the circumstances of your case meet these criteria, you will be assessed by substance use treatment professionals who will report the nature and extent of your addiction problem and recommend a treatment plan for the judge to adopt as a case plan.  

The program requires you to sign a contract detailing the terms of your treatment plan and you forego further litigation in defense of the charges underlying your prosecution. This can be a tough call for some clients who are tempted to continue to fight the case because defense lawyers may have been able to defeat the charges based on an illegal police search or other procedural errors. 

If you decide to sign up for the DPIC program, you will be held to the letter of the agreement. If you violate the contract requirements and fail the program, your case is brought back before the judge who may sentence you to up to six months in jail. Of course, substance dependence is an illness with no easy cure, and relapsing is understood to be a part of recovery. But exceeding the leeway permitted will result in consequences.  


First-Time Drug Arrests Require Experienced Drug Defense Lawyers 


Each drug arrest involves a wide range of variable circumstances and every case follows its own path through the criminal justice system. But working with an experienced Tampa area drug defense lawyer ensures that you will have access to the best possible outcome.  

Some first-time drug arrests will result in an outright dismissal, others will qualify for dismissal after completing the Drug Pretrial Intervention Court program, and others will need to be defended through a full jury trial to best serve the interests of the person accused. Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law focuses the defense of each case on the best strategy for that particular client.  


If you are dealing with a first-time drug arrest, contact Stechschulte Nell today; 813-280-1244.  


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