Girl with no criminal record leaves purse unattended in comp lab at school with drugs, is searched by staff and given to police
My girlfriend with no criminal record left her purse unattended in the "Math Lab" at Santa Fe College. She came back about an hour later to find that it had been taken by the staff, who told her she could go to the on campus police station to retrieve it. She walks to the police station and is apprehended by the police there, who tell her that cocaine was found in her bag (about .1-.2 of a gram). Flustered, she tells the police she was holding it for a friend. She is handcuffed and taken to the Alachua County Jail. This happened today and she is going to court at 9am tomorrow. What should be done to avoid felony charges? She has no past criminal record and is an A-B student with Bright Futures scholarship. What would be the smartest course of action to proceed with tomorrow?
5 attorney answers
First, there is absolutely NOTHING that can be done to avoid the felony charge. It is what it is at the moment. Her grades and scholarship will mean very little if anything to the assistant state attorney who is probably moaning about his student loans every night. It may even be a negative.
Second, she simply MUST hire a Florida criminal defense attorney ASAP (the sooner the better). Don't listen to attorneys who say to only hire a "local attorney." All our Florida Bar cards read "Florida" on them, not "City X." For misdemeanors, I would agree that it is usually less expensive to hire locally, but cheaper doesn't necessarily mean "better." This is a serious felony, so please, have her find competent counsel who can attack her admission to police about "holding the [cocaine] for someone else" as well as explore other defenses.
Many of us work late night and weekend hours, so call an attorney for a free consultation right now, and do not delay. These situations do not get better with time.
Seriously, have her call someone tonight. She may need to have a motion filed for reduction of bond in order to get out of jail. Don't delay!
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Hire an attorney in the jurisdiction where she was arrested. Every county is like a small country with it's own procedures and possible consequences. Good Luck.
Regardless of her statement that "she was holding it for a friend" (which is proof of knowledge and intent to possess a controlled substance - the essential building blocks of a possession charge) based upon the rest of your proffered fact my guess is that she will almost certainly be charged with a 3rd degree felony for possession of cocaine. This is not to say that she cannot deny making the statement (if in fact she did not make it and you are incorrect in your belief that she did so) or that there may not be any of a number of defenses available to her, but it is to say that based solely upon your proffer she will likely face charges.
As for the process from here, tomorrow morning she will be taken before an initial appearance Judge who will read the arrest affidavit, almost certainly find probable cause and will then either grant her a bond or release her on some form of non-monetary pretrial release. Under no circumstances will the case end tomorrow.
Afterward the State will review the file and make its own determination as to whether or not a crime was committed and whether or not there is a good faith basis to file charges. In the interim, your girlfriend should be meeting with experienced G-ville area criminal defense lawyers to begin to plan her defense and litigation objective. It is also possible that an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to persuade the State that it does not have a case, but, if what you have proffered is true, then I would not hold out much hope on that front. Still, she should have that discussion with someone who has the benefit of reviewing her police report and an opportunity to evaluate her version of events.
If the case is filed then she may be eligible for some form of diversion, but not being a G-ville lawyer I cannot comment on the likelihood of that outcome. However, whether she is diversion eligible or not, she may have a problem with either her academic institution (which may or may not have some student code of conduct policy that was offended) and she may also have a problem in regard to her scholarship; and these are two more reasons that she should be meeting with an experienced G-ville area criminal defense lawyer asap.
I hope that it all works out for her. Its a shame but these things can and do happen. There is no 4th Amendment violation. Search and recovery of a seemingly abandoned bag is entirely constitutional (and objectively reasonable).
For more on the 4th Amendment issues please see my Avvo Legal Guide at: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/encounters-detentions-and-arrests--a-guide-to-understanding-4th-amendment-seizures-of-persons
I hope that this has been helpful and wish you the best of luck!
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I fully agree with Mr. Dillingham. There's nothing you can do other than hire an attorney to convince prosecutors to drop charges later. Otherwise go to trial and beat this case.
Tomorrow is her first appearance. I would expect that a bond would be set, also she will probably be given an option to he released and appear at the pretrial services and report once a week while out.
There is absolutely no proof from your hypothetical that she was in possession of drugs, unless she admitted they were hers. You clearly say that she did not admit they were hers.
How do we know the person that turned the purse in or anyone else did not slip the drugs in?
She wasn't even in possession of the purse when it was turned in. There is a giant hole in the states case here, a good criminal defense attorney can exploit that hole and kick this case right out of court.
Get her to a criminal defense attorney soon.
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Get her bonded out at first appearance, and then get a private attorney to represent her. There are many things that an attorney can do with these facts. It is troublesome that she basically admitted that it was in her purse, but that might get suppressed.
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