Today, with more news about pill mills, more citizens than ever before are being charged with possession and trafficking or prescription pain medicines. Possession of four (4) grams or more of certain substances could result in a criminal charge of drug trafficking, as opposed to the lesser offense of drug possession. Law enforcement has gotten very aggressive in its enforcement of drug laws. Holding a few pills for a loved one can get you thrown in jail, even if the medication has been obtained with a valid prescription.
Christopher Ayotte found this out in Pensacola, Florida last year. Mr. Ayotte and his girlfriend had gone out for a few drinks one evening. His girlfriend had asked him to hold some of her prescribed hydrocodone. An officer testified that he had observed Mr. Ayotte showing some pills to another bar patron and possibly exchanging them. The officer also testified that Mr. Ayotte confessed that he was selling the pills to pay for drinks. Mr. Ayotte denied making any such statement(s) and testified that the pills only left his pocket accidentally, when they fell out as he reached for cigarettes in the same pocket.
Mr. Ayotte’s case eventually went to trial, but even though it was undisputed that the pills had been obtained with a valid prescription by his girlfriend (who was with him), the jury was never instructed that there is a statutory exception to Florida Statutes section 893.135(1)(c)1, the drug trafficking statute. Mr. Ayotte was ultimately convicted of trafficking in hydrocodone.
Fortunately for Mr. Ayotte, the First District Court of Appeals held that the failure to instruct the jury as to the statutory exceptions to the prohibition on possession of hydrocodone when the substance is obtained by a prescription was fundamental error where the state failed to refute his defense that he was holding the pills for his girlfriend and argued that possession alone was sufficient to convict.
In cases involving the trafficking of prescription medications, it is extremely important that your lawyer specifically requests that the jury be instructed on the statutory exceptions to the possession of these substances. While we will never know what the jury might have done had they been given the instruction, Mr. Ayotte learned what happened when they did not. Don’t let that happen to you!
John M. Howe is Of Counsel at the Law Offices of Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith in West Palm Beach, Florida, handling all of the Firm’s criminal law cases. Mr. Howe is the President of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and a Director-At-Large of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. To learn more about Mr. Howe and LLL&S, visit them on the web at www.lesserlawfirm.com.