Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

Questions Regarding Out Of State / Tourist Arrests for Drug Crimes


Are There A Lot Of Out-Of-State Or Tourist Arrests Seen?

It is an amazing thing when a state as dependent on tourism as Florida decides to go on some type of war on drugs. Whether it is the war against underage drinking with minor in possession charges or drug charges for possession of marijuana under twenty grams, local governments are putting up large amounts of money to harass young people. It doesn’t matter if they have been using drugs or not, whether or not they are drinking, they are being targeted and harassed by law enforcement. This is especially true near any of Florida’s beaches. Usually, it is not the law enforcement officers in the field being bad people or anything like that. Road deputies and highway patrol officers take their orders from elected officials and these politicians absolutely have an agenda: run for re-election as “tough on crime”.  The local political leaders, elected sheriffs and elected prosecutors, are often pushing this.

How Are Drug Cases Handled For Out-Of-State / Tourist Offenders?

When a tourist or other out of state resident comes to Florida and is arrested on a drug charge, their first problem is getting a reasonable bond. When someone is a local and they have ties to the area, they have family in the area, these are things that the judge factors in when determining a bond. Therefore, the first problem that an out of state resident has is getting a bond. The second problem is that they have to go to court on a frequent basis. We take care of that for our clients and use legal pleadings known as Appearance Waivers so they don’t have to go to court five or six times.

After they are arrested, most people will receive a document called a statement of probable cause. This arrest report with a probable cause is going to have a court date. A lot of people erroneously assume, after they have been arrested, that the court date they are given is their date for trial. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is only the first or second of many, many court appearances.

For example, the first court appearance after arrest, if someone is not given a booking officer bond at the jail, will be the first appearance the following morning. This is something that is done either at a jail or, more frequently, by video. That is literally the first appearance. The second appearance is called an arraignment. Although there are some municipalities and counties in Florida that refer to the second court date as “Plea day”, but that is technically inaccurate. However, that is what it is called sometimes and people need to know what court appearances are important to attend and which ones are not.

Arraignment often gets confused with a trial. In actuality, arraignment is simply for the purpose of entering a plea after the prosecutor has read out formal charges. Let’s look at the practicalities from the client’s view: if someone comes down on vacation from Maryland, gets arrested for a small amount of marijuana, maybe half a joint, they are usually taken to jail. They also go see the judge the next morning to find out if they get a bond and they make it, they get out of jail. That is when they have a problem. They have to come back for arraignment court. Then they have to come back for a pretrial conference, and then come back for a case status management conference. After that, they will have to come back for a jury trial review or a docket day.

In addition to all of these court dates, once you start throwing in continuances and contested motions, it is not uncommon for people who have a small amount of marijuana to have four, five or six court appearances before the case is resolved. I use waivers of appearance to make life easier. I can use the rules of legal procedure to my client’s advantage and excuse most court appearances. But people are still going to court without real legal help.

This puts out of state tourists at a serious disadvantage and some try to plead no contest or guilty at their first court date, only to find that when a Florida prosecutor has an unrepresented defendant, they are defenseless. They don’t know what to say. They hear legal jargon that can affect their life for the first time. Virtually all will be over punished, virtually none will get the best plea bargain and a large percentage will suffer courthouse surprise: intense, drug offender probation plus jail time on a first offense.

Every single out of state resident who gets arrested on vacation for a misdemeanor marijuana charge is stunned by how harsh Florida drug punishments can be. I’m getting cases dismissed while unrepresented people in the same county are getting drug offender probation and/or jail. The drug laws may be changing very fast in the country, but not among conservative politicians in some parts of the country who believe – or claim to believe – that drugs are some kind of social “sin”. At the current time, we have one party rule in the state capitol, and virtually all of the suburban and rural counties have local officials with the same “tough on crime” mentality from the 1980’s. Out of town tourists don’t vote locally, so there is no political repercussion.

Fortunately, despite the rise in what I like to call manufactured drug cases, where politicians have police officers following, stopping, grilling and harassing tourists, we are making progress in and out of the courtroom.

What is Different When Someone Is a Tourist and Faces Drug Charges in Florida?

Their bonds are usually higher and they need an attorney sooner. Secondly, it can be extremely inconvenient to attend court. When someone is driving or flying from another state, just to sit in the courthouse for four to six hours waiting for their case to be called, and then they hear their lawyer speak for five to ten seconds just to get another court date that can be very frustrating. We take care of these court proceedings for our clients so they do not have to attend.

One of the things that have been done for a long time is to use a series of legal pleadings known as waivers. These waivers are used to keep out of state tourists and other visitors to the state from having to go to court every two to three weeks. Now these tourists will not have to sit around for hours, spend a lot of money on lodging and transportation, when we know in advance that nothing useful will happen in their case. As legal counsel, I can legally excuse them from these types of appearances and it saves a lot of time and money.

This is even more important for younger adults, especially students, who do not have the finances to be coming back and forth. They can attend school without having to worry about a court appearance which is a big deal. Many students only carry small amounts of drugs, like a marijuana cigarette which can get them in trouble. The worst part is if they decide to handle the case without a lawyer, they will end up paying a hefty amount in court fees, costs of supervision, drug offender class fees, and other burdens which amount to much more than what an experienced attorney may have quoted them. The lost future income alone can be hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next couple of decades.

Get Answers to Questions Regarding out Of State / Tourist Arrests for Drug Crimes in Florida or call Attorney Stephen G. Cobb of the Cobb Criminal Defense Law Firm in Florida for a FREE Initial Consultation at (850) 466-1522 and get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.

Stephen G. Cobb, Esq.

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