If you are one of the millions of people in the United States who is prescribed a controlled substance, such as Xanax for anxiety, or Percocet/Vicodin for pain, you may be inclined to pop one of these pills in your pocket for the day “just in case” you might need it, leaving the prescription bottle and paperwork at home. However, what you likely do not realize is that this is actually a very dangerous practice, putting you at risk of being arrested for a misdemeanor, or even worse, a felony.
Medications such as Xanax are often prescribed in quantities of 30 or more pills at a time. However, rarely does one prescribed the medication need to take more than one or two pills per day. In fact, many people prescribed anti-anxiety medication like Xanax (or similar drugs such as Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan) take comfort just in having a pill on hand in case they need one. As such, the person prescribed these medications faces the daily predicament of how to have his or her medication on hand when needed without having to carry around the whole bottle of pills.
This is especially true for men, who do not carry purses. Surely, a man armed with nothing other than his pants pockets or jacket to hold his pills cannot be expected to carry around a whole bottle of Xanax. Even a woman with a purse might not want to go around sounding like she has a pair of maracas rattling in her bag all day.
So, why is this so important? Because Florida Statute 893.13(6) makes it unlawful for anyone to possess a controlled substance unless it was lawfully obtained from a medical practitioner pursuant to a valid prescription or order of the medical practitioner in the course of their professional practice. Violation of this law can result in anything from a minor misdemeanor to a third degree felony, depending on the specific controlled substance. Further, possession of even a single pill of a controlled substance, such as Xanax, can lead to a felony possession of Xanax charge.
Now, you might be thinking, why would I get arrested for or charged with this crime if I was in fact prescribed this medication by a licensed medical practitioner? Well, law enforcement officers do not always take the time to call your pharmacy and look into the legitimacy of your prescription prior to arresting you. They know that these pills are commonly sold loose with no bottle on the street, and all that the police need to make an arrest is probable cause! This is a very low standard that is far from the proof beyond a reasonable doubt that would be needed to convict you at trial.
Therefore, even if your charges are not later filed by the State Attorney’s Office, you might still live with the stigma of a felony arrest for the rest of your life. What’s worse is that the State Attorney’s Office often does go on to file charges in cases like this, unless a skilled criminal defense attorney convinces them not to. In that case, you could go on to face a felony prosecution where you would be looking at possible prison time.
So, what is the takeaway message? First, if you are one of the countless people who does pop a single pill or two in your pocket “just in case,” you should always keep a copy of the paper prescription information provided by your pharmacist with you or near you, to the extent possible. For example, keep a copy of this information in your car, along with your registration and proof of insurance. It is equally as important, if not more so, and most arrests of this nature happen during a traffic stop!
Second, if you have been arrested for possession of a controlled substance without a valid prescription, it is crucial that you secure an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon after your arrest as possible. If you act quickly enough, in many cases your attorney can ensure that the State Attorney’s Office does not proceed to file charges against you. Even when the State does choose to file charges against you, your defense attorney can often get the charges dropped or reduced. Finally, an experienced defense lawyer can help you get your arrest record sealed and expunged, and get your mugshot offline, so that you do not carry the stigma of the arrest with you for the rest of your life.