Florida Courts Split on Drug Testing, Weighing Issue in Trafficking Cases - Greenwade v. State

October 23, 2012

Florida drug trafficking cases often involve a variety of complicated legal and procedural issues. So complicated, that sometimes the courts don't agree on the answers to these issues. In Greenwade v. State, for example, the First District Court of Appeal recently split from other appellate courts in the state on the question of how individually wrapped packets of suspected drugs should be tested and weighed.

489543_various_abusive_drugs.jpgBaron Greenwade was arrested after police officers searched his home in Jacksonville and allegedly found a large plastic bag with nine smaller baggies filled with a white powdery substance in the garage. Greenwade reportedly admitted to the officers that the baggies were his and that they contained cocaine. The police also allegedly found a digital scale and a spoon with cocaine residue on it next to the bag.

The contents of the baggies were later combined into one large Ziploc bag and sent to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab for testing. Testing confirmed that the bag, which was weighed at 234.5 grams, did in fact contain cocaine. The FDLE chemist who tested the contents did not test for purity.

Greenwade plead guilty to a number of criminal charges, including possession of a firearm, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest. The trial court denied his motion seeking acquittal on a charge of trafficking in more than 200 grams of cocaine and a jury later found him guilty.

On appeal, the First District affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court rejected Greenwade's argument that the State was unable to prove that he had more than 200 grams of cocaine because the police did not test each baggie individually before combining the contents and weighing it.

In Ross v. State, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that, where the substance at issue is wrapped in individual packets, the State must test each packet for cocaine and then combine those packets that test positive to determine the weight of the drugs. The Second District employed the same reasoning to reverse a cocaine trafficking charge in Safford v. State and an amphetamine charge Sheridan v. State.

But the First District opted not to follow the path paved by its sister courts. "We respectfully decline to follow Ross, Safford and Sheridan because, in our view, their apparent bright line rule creates an untenable distinction between cases involving multiple packages of suspicious white powder and cases involving just one package," the Court said

For example, the Court explained, there would be no challenge to Greenwade's conviction had the cocaine been found in one large bag, rather than in nine small ones. The State could simply test a sample from the bag and then weigh the contents to determine the amount of cocaine. The same substance divided into nine baggies, however, would require the State to individually test samples from each baggie, determine which contain cocaine and then weigh only those to measure the weight of the drugs that Greenwade was allegedly trafficking.

While the Court chose not to apply the so-called "rule against co-mingling," it did acknowledge that it was splitting with the reasoning of the Second and Third Districts. As a result, the Court certified the conflict for review by the Florida Supreme Court.

As this decision makes clear, a person facing drug trafficking charges in Florida is well advised to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling drug trafficking cases and have consistently provided high quality representation to clients all over Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Explains the Rules for Using Evidence of Previous Convictions in a Criminal Drug Trial - U.S. v. Ricketts

Court Sends Question of Cell Phone Search During Criminal Arrest to Supreme Court - State v. Glasco

Can Police Use Your Silence Against You? Supreme Court Decides not to Decide