Duress Defense in Florida Drug Cases – Stannard v. State

There are a number of legal defenses available to criminal defendants in Florida depending on the circumstances of the given case. In Stannard v. State, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals explains one of those defenses: that the crime was committed under duress.

Mr. Stannard bought oxycodone from a dealer named “Pops” after a prescription for the drug he’d been given to treat knee pain ran out. He bought the drugs on credit because he was unemployed at the time and wasn’t able to pay Pops the $150 he owed. The drug dealer and his associates started coming by to demand payment and threaten Stannard. He became so alarmed that he and his mother moved from the home in which they were living.

On the evening of April 18, 2010, Pops and his friends appeared at Stannard’s new residence. They forced Stannard into a car, where he said one of the men told him that he was either going to “pay up” that night or get beaten so bad his mother wouldn’t recognize him. According to Stannard, Pops later pulled out a fake prescription for oxycodone with Stannard’s name on it and told Stannard that he was going to go into a local Walgreen’s and fill the prescription in order to clear his debt. Stannard said Pops’ associates went in to the store with him to make sure that he filled the prescription.

Stannard was later arrested and charged with trafficking in more than fourteen grams of oxycodone and obtaining a prescription by fraud. At trial, Stannard’s lawyer requested that the court instruct the jury on the defense of duress. A person is excused from criminal conduct under this defense where the act is committed under the threat of death or serious bodily injury. The trial judge said the instruction wasn’t warranted in this case, however, because Stannard didn’t show that the threat posed by Pops and his friends was “imminent and impending.” Stannard was later convicted on both charges.

Reversing the trial court’s ruling on appeal, the Fifth District said Stannard was entitled to a jury instruction on the duress defense. “A defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed on his theory of defense if there is any evidence to support it, so long as the theory is recognized as valid under the law of the state,” the court said, citing its 2003 decision in Worley v. State. The five elements necessary to establish the defense, according to the court, are: 1) the person had a reasonable belief that he was in danger that he didn’t intentionally cause; 2) the danger came with a threat of significant harm; 3) the threat was real, imminent and impending; 4) the person didn’t have a reasonable way of avoiding the danger other than to commit the crime; and 5) the harm avoided outweighed the harm caused by committing the crime.

The appeals court said each of these elements was met in this case. Specifically, it found that the danger posed by Pops and his associates was sufficiently imminent and impending and that the state’s claim that he had a chance to escape while he was alone at a pharmacist counter was for a jury to consider. As a result, the court reversed the convictions and remanded the case for new trial.

If you are facing prescription drug trafficking or other charges in Florida, it is essential to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney who can effectively defend your rights. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help negotiate with prosecutors, find legal defenses that can exonerate you or reduce your sentence, fight for your interests and achieve the best results possible.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Explains Prescription Defense in Oxycodone, Xanax Case – Wagner v. State

Florida Court Reverses Conspiracy Conviction in Oxycodone Trafficking Case – Dieujuste v. State

A Sick Cat and the ‘Necessity’ Defense in Florida DUI Cases – Brooks v. State