Prescription drug possession can bring steep federal penalties

People convicted of prescription drug possession in Florida may face various federal penalties, including incarceration, asset forfeiture and fines.

Drug arrests represent a significant number of all arrests that take place in Tampa and other parts of Florida each year. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in 2014, over 122,000 people in the state were arrested for drug-related offenses. With prescription drug abuse becoming more common, many of these arrests may have involved prescription drugs, rather than illicit narcotics.

Unfortunately, people convicted of illegal prescription drug possession can still face significant penalties at the federal level, in addition to state sanctions. It is important for anyone accused of prescription drug possession in Florida to be familiar with these potential penalties.

What are the federal criminal penalties?

The criminal sanctions for prescription drug possession vary based on the number of state or federal drug offenses that a person previously has been convicted of. Under the United States Code Controlled Substances Act, the penalties are as follows:

  • A first offense is punishable with up to one year in prison and a fine up to $1,000.
  • A second offense can be punished with between 15 days and two years in prison, along with a maximum fine of $2,500.
  • A third offense can be sanctioned with anywhere from 90 days to three years in prison, in addition to fines up to $5,000.

The Act makes an exception for flunitrazepam, which is sold under the brand name Rohypnol. People convicted of illegal possession of this substance may face up to three years imprisonment, regardless of the number of prior offenses.

Are there additional consequences?

People convicted of prescription drug possession may face further economic losses in the form of civil penalties. The maximum federal fine for possession of a controlled substance for personal use is $10,000. Furthermore, convicted offenders may be ordered to pay for the cost of the investigation and prosecution of the alleged offense.

People convicted of offenses that can be punished with more than one year in prison may also be subject to criminal forfeiture proceedings. During these proceedings, any property used to commit a drug-related offense may be seized. Property that a person intended to use to commit the offense may also be seized.

When is prescription drug possession illegal?

Possession of a prescription substance is unlawful if a person does not have a valid prescription. The prescription must be obtained from a licensed medical practitioner who issued it as part of his or her professional practice. If a practitioner's license or registration has expired, the accused person must show that he or she was not aware of this.

In some cases, people charged with prescription drug possession might be able to prove that these criteria aren't met or challenge the underlying evidence. In other cases, accused individuals may be able to pursue alternatives to incarceration, such as professional treatment and rehabilitation. To further explore these options, anyone accused of prescription drug possession should consider consulting with a criminal defense attorney immediately.

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