Lyons Snyder & Collin. Trial Attorneys.


Can I be arrested for a few loose oxycodone or xanax pills in my pocket?

By Philip M. Snyder

Can I be arrested for a few loose oxycodone or xanax pills in my pocket?

As a Broward County criminal defense attorney, many of my drug-related cases involve individuals who after being pulled over for a routine traffic violation (i.e. speeding), were  subsequently arrested for possessing a few (i.e. one or two) loose oxycodone or xanax pills without an accompanying prescription.  The State Attorney’s Office files these “possession” cases as a 3rd degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Recently, a defense-friendly ruling came out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals regarding these types of cases.

In State v. Deaton, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D646b (March 20, 2013), the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed a Broward County Circuit Court ruling (Judge Lisa Porter) granting a defendant’s Motion to Suppress reasoning that the arresting officer lacked of probable cause to make an arrest despite finding one loose oxycodone pill in the defendant’s pocket.   The defense bar should applaud Judge Porter’s ruling as although [Judge Porter’s] ruling is logical and well-reasoned, not many Judges in Broward County would have made such a ruling.

Although I encourage everyone to read Judge Porter’s ruling, I have summarized the case (and added commentary) as follows:

After witnessing the defendant improperly park his car, a detective conducted a traffic stop.    The detective confirmed that the defendant’s possessed a valid license.  The defendant than “consented” to a search of his person, during which time the detective found one loose oxycodone pill in the defendant’s pocket.  The defendant explained that he had a prescription at home. Nevertheless, the defendant was arrested on the spot.

The defendant moved to suppress the seizure of the oxycodone pill arguing that the detective lacked probable cause to make the warrantless arrest.   Judge Porter suppressed the evidence concluding that “there was nothing in and of itself in terms of the nature of the pill and how the pill was carried on his person that gave [the detective] probable cause to arrest for the felony.”

It should be noted that the Fourth District Court of Appeals seemingly placed significant weight in the fact that oxycodone (and presumably xanax) unlike other drugs such as heroin, MDMA and cocaine may be lawfully possessed with a prescription.    Judge Porter noted that it is not unusual for a traveler with a valid prescription to separate a pill from a prescription bottle for later consumption.  The 4th District Court of Appeals also noted that nothing the defendant did prior to the stop was consistent with a person trying to buy or sell drugs [or acting under the influence of drugs] (i.e. dropping the pill on the floor, quickly trying to crush the pill, failure to stop the vehicle upon command, furtive movements, driving erratically, driving extremely slow, etc.).

Curiously, the opinion does not state whether the defendant did in fact possess a valid prescription.   As I commonly practice in Broward County, my (educated) guess is that the defendant did possess a valid prescription but could not meet one of Broward onerous requirements to obtain a nolle prosequi (“dismissal”) of the case (… possibly the prescription was old?).   Luckily for defense attorney’s and their clients, the opinion is silent as to this (what I consider to be crucial) fact.

As this case involves a defendant in possession of only one oxycodone pill, I can foresee other Judges attempting to differentiate this case in situations involving as little as two or three oxycodone pills – the greater the number of pills, the higher the likelihood for another Judge to attempt to differentiate the ruling.   As such, if you are arrested for possession of oxycodone or possession of xanax, it is important to retain an experienced defense attorney familiar with drug cases (and this ruling) to file a Motion to Suppress.