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Heat player arrested on felony marijuana charges

Posted on August 18, 2010 3:00 AM EST

A pro NBA player was arrested on Sunday after been pulled over on a routine traffic stop. Udonis Haslem, the driver of 2008 Mercedes, was arrested for felony possession of marijuana while his passenger was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. The criminal defense lawyer representing Haslem told reporters that his client intends to fight the charges and that he was wrongfully arrested. A Florida Highway Patrol officer pulled over Haslem for speeding on the Gratigny Parkway. The officer allegedly approached the vehicle and smelled a strong odor of marijuana. The officer requested consent to search the vehicle which was granted by the driver and owner of the vehicle. The trooper discovered three containers of marijuana in a duffel bag. The duffle bag also container papers belong to the passenger of the vehicle. The passenger also admitted that the duffel bag and the marijuana belonged to him.

While the case on its face seems simple, there are a number of lessons to be learned. Any qualified Miami criminal defense lawyer knows that a person cannot be charged with possession of any illegal substance unless he or she had actual or constructive possession of that item. Actual possession is defined as when the item is in the hand of or on the person of, in a container in the hand of or on the person of, or when the item is so close as to be within ready reach and is under the control of the person. Constructive possession is defined as when the controlled substance is located in a place over which the defendant has control. In a constructive possession case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant had control over the area where the controlled substance was located, but most importantly that the defendant has knowledge that the controlled substance was within his presence. It's obvious that Haslem never had actual possession of the marijuana, it is almost as obvious that constructive possession will be an issue for the prosecution. While the marijuana was clearly in the vehicle owned and operated by Haslem, they cannot prove that Haslem had knowledge of its presence, especially in light of the documents found in the duffel bag and statements provided by the passenger.

The other thing to be learned in the case is to never consent to the search of your vehicle. If a police officer requests consent your vehicle, always decline unless you are absolutely sure your vehicle does not contain illegal contraband. If you are in doubt, don't consent. The investigating officer will have no choice but to get a warrant or at a minimum bring in a K-9 unit in the hopes that the dog will alert to some illegal substance. If the dog alerts, a warrant will not be necessary as there is a warrantless search exception called the "automobile exception". Due to the ambulatory nature of a motor vehicle, an officer will often times have the right to search your vehicle as long as they can establish probable cause to believe the vehicle contains an illegal substance. Officers will many times promise not to arrest you if you allow them to search your vehicle. Remember, the police often make hollow promises and will arrest you if they find cocaine or marijuana in your vehicle.

While Haslem and his passenger are not charged with the most serious of offenses, felony marijuana possession is a third degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. Misdemeanor marijuana possession cases a first degree misdemeanors punishable up to 365 days in the county jail. While these are not serious offenses, non-citizens convicted of the offenses are subject to deportation if they enter pleas or are convicted by a jury. If you are charged with any of these or related offenses, it is imperative to contact a criminal law firm with experience in defending these types of cases.

Miami Heat's Undonis Haslem will be Vindicated, The Miami Herald.com, August 16, 2010.
Categories: Drug Offenses