Tony the drug dealer is really bummed. He’s facing a fifteen year minimum mandatory prison sentence and his case is a slam dunk for Florida prosecutors. They’ve got a video of his drug deal, as well as access to 17 nuns who just happened to witness the unlawful transfer of money in exchange for a few hundred Oxycodone pain pills. Furthermore, they have Tony’s detailed confession on audio tape. The only way he avoids lengthy time in the pokey is if he hires magician David Copperfield to make all the damning evidence disappear.
Because Tony’s assets have been frozen, he can’t afford to hire the famed magician. The good news for Tony is that he may not need to. His attorney hears about some scandal involving the chemist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). That’s the person who prosecutors rely upon in all drug cases to test the contraband and render an opinion as to whether it’s a controlled substance. Even if all parties involved in a drug deal thinks they are dealing with real drugs, the prosecutors must still prove the contraband isn’t some other lawful substance like sugar pills. In Tony’s case, the chemist tested the pills and determined it was definitely 250 grams of Oxycodone pain pills.
Tony’s lawyer was successful in securing permission from the court to retest the pills to determine whether it’s really a controlled substance and, also, to ascertain the true weight. Tony wasn’t optimistic.
When Tony’s expert chemist retests the stuff, a miracle unfolds. While the pills still weighed approximately 250 grams, it turns out that they weren’t Oxycodone as initially alleged by the chemist. Rather, they were over-the-counter pills. Tony is shocked! He knows he was dealing with the real thing. What the heck happened?
A TRUE STORY
What happened in this hypothetical case is what actually happened to hundreds of drug cases in 35 Florida counties. The chemist stole the pills. In exchange, he replaced them with over-the-counter pills, hoping no one would ever notice.
Now, the future of thousands of criminal drug cases throughout the state of Florida are in jeopardy. While the FDLE chemist was based out of Pensacola, he worked on approximately 3,000 cases across Florida. This chemist, hired in 2006, worked on cases for 80 law enforcement agencies in 12 judicial circuits. An enormous investigation is currently underway to uncover just how many other cases were effected by this egregious conduct. They’re not yet releasing the chemist’s name. He has been relieved of duty with pay and is under criminal investigation.
While FDLE is uncertain as to the exact number of pills that were stolen, they are publicly stating that the quantities are “large.” The chemist isn’t cooperating. Also, investigators are uncertain as to whether the chemist was using the pills or selling them. Teams of FDLE officials will begin the burdensome task of inspecting all of the evidence ever touched by this alleged crooked chemist.
The question amongst us criminal defense attorneys is, “Is anything sacred anymore?” Typically, the chemist’s report is not something that gets challenged in most cases. The cost to retest seized contraband is approximately $1,000. Most defendants, especially those represented by a public defender, do not sufficient funds to challenge the often reliable chemist. Now, everything has changed. Nothing is sacred. In all closed cases where this crooked chemist was involved, attorneys have an obligation to investigate. In future cases, it may be necessary to retest and reweigh contraband, because “Who knows?”
What we do know is that this is a huge blemish on the Criminal Justice System. If a chemist cannot be relied upon, then who can?
Now, back to our hypothetical. What happens to Tony? Well, just like the other “Tony’s” in real life who find themselves facing drug trafficking charges with a fifteen year minimum mandatory, they have hope. If they were fortunate enough to have their case handled by this chemist, they may walk free. In Tony’s case, that’s exactly what will happen. No unlawful pills, no case. A true sad state of affairs in Florida.