NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Colorado Drug Trafficking Laws: A Comprehensive Guide
Drug trafficking laws in Colorado are complex and carry severe penalties, including lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences. With the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana, there is ongoing debate about sentencing reform and diversion programs for those struggling with substance abuse disorders. For anyone facing drug distribution charges, securing experienced legal representation is critical. This guide provides an overview of Colorado drug trafficking statutes, sentencing, and potential defenses.
Drug Trafficking Charges and Penalties
The primary Colorado statute governing drug trafficking crimes is C.R.S. 18-18-405. It establishes felony classifications based on the type and quantity of controlled substance involved. Prosecutors at the state or federal level may pursue charges.
Felony Classifications and Sentences
The following table outlines the felony classifications and potential sentences for trafficking various controlled substances under Colorado law:
|Drug Type and Quantity||Charge Severity||Potential Sentence|
|Heroin, coca leaves, cocaine, etc. – More than 225g||Level 1 Felony||8-32 years prison + fines up to $1 million|
|Heroin, coca leaves, cocaine, etc. – More than 50g but less than 225g||Level 2 Felony||4-16 years prison + fines up to $1 million|
|Heroin, coca leaves, cocaine, etc. – More than 3.5g but less than 50g||Level 3 Felony||2-8 years prison + fines up to $750,000|
|Schedule I and II Controlled Substances (excluding marijuana) – More than 450g||Level 2 Felony||4-16 years prison + fines up to $1 million|
The sentences get progressively more severe based on the quantity and type of substance involved. Trafficking smaller amounts may lead to lighter felony charges. The minimum fines can also be significant.
A major component of Colorado drug laws is mandatory minimum sentencing. Judges do not have discretion to impose lesser sentences, even for first-time offenses. Only limited exceptions apply.
For example, a Level 1 felony heroin charge over 225g carries an automatic prison term of at least 8 years. Less than that requires the judge to hand down a harsh sentence regardless of mitigating factors.
Mandatory minimums aimed to punish large-scale traffickers. But critics argue they have led to overly punitive sentences even for smaller players and those struggling with addiction. Recent reform efforts in Colorado have sought to relax mandatory minimums for drug possession charges.
State vs. Federal Trafficking Charges
In Colorado, both state and federal prosecutors can bring trafficking charges for distributing illegal drugs. The potential penalties are severe in both court systems.
Defendants face the harshest mandatory minimum sentences in federal court. Under 21 U.S.C. § 841, federal trafficking convictions can lead to:
- 5 years minimum for less than 5g of crack or 500g of powder cocaine
- 10 years minimum for higher quantities – e.g. 5-50g crack, 0.5-5kg cocaine
Federal drug distribution charges almost always lead to lengthy prison terms. The only possibility of avoiding mandatory minimums is cooperating with prosecutors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). Even then, penalties are still harsh.
Common Defenses Against Drug Trafficking Charges
The severe penalties make building an aggressive legal defense critical when facing trafficking accusations in Colorado. Common defense strategies include:
Invalid Traffic Stop or Search
Much evidence in drug cases comes from traffic stops and vehicle searches. But police must have proper justification, like observing a traffic violation or getting consent.
An illegal search and seizure in violation of 4th Amendment rights may lead to evidence suppression. If drugs or other proof are excluded, the case could collapse.
Lack of Intent to Distribute
Trafficking charges require prosecutors to prove intent to manufacture, distribute, dispense, sell, or possess controlled substances. Simple drug possession – even of large amounts – does not constitute trafficking.
The defense may argue absence of key evidence showing intent to distribute – like baggies, scales, pay-owe notes, recorded conversations, or witness testimony. Without solid proof, charges may be defeated.
No Actual Possession
Police often allege “constructive possession” of drugs – i.e. the authority or ability to exercise control over them. But proximity alone does not prove possession. Having joint access to an area where drugs are found does not necessarily make someone criminally liable.
Vigorously contesting possession can undermine trafficking accusations when controlled substances actually belong to someone else.
This defense argues police improperly induced or coerced the defendant into committing a crime they otherwise would not. Undercover sting operations targeting vulnerable individuals may constitute improper entrapment.
If officers pressured someone into trafficking through aggressive encouragement, the defense may succeed in having charges thrown out.
Trafficking under threat or coercion may form grounds for a duress defense. This is akin to having a metaphorical “gun to your head,” forcing involvement despite reasonable fear of harm.
If someone only transported or sold drugs because a violent gang member made serious threats, this claim of duress may excuse otherwise illegal actions.
Finding the Right Drug Trafficking Lawyer in Colorado
The complexity of Colorado drug statutes and severity of penalties make experienced legal counsel critical for trafficking defendants. Key credentials to seek in a lawyer include:
- Deep knowledge of state vs. federal drug laws and sentencing
- Familiarity with local police and prosecutorial practices
- Prior success getting charges reduced or dismissed pre-trial
- Experience arguing Fourth Amendment violations and other defenses
- Skills negotiating pleas or representing clients at trial
Retaining aggressive advocacy can sometimes be the difference between years behind bars versus probation or diversion programs. Reaching the best possible outcomes in drug trafficking prosecutions requires leveraging all available defenses.
Recent Reform Efforts and Policy Considerations
Several trends are spurring reevaluation of Colorado drug trafficking laws and sentencing:
- Shifting attitudes – Polls show growing public support for treatment over punishment for drug crimes. A 2019 survey found 66% of Colorado voters back eliminating mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
- Racial disparities – Despite comparable usage rates, African-Americans and Latinos face disproportionately higher arrest and incarceration rates for drug crimes nationally and in Colorado. Critics argue sentencing reform is needed to combat systemic biases.
- The opioid crisis – Soaring overdose deaths are prompting public health approaches to substance abuse disorders. Rethinking punitive trafficking statutes could expand treatment access by reducing disincentives.
- Marijuana legalization – Since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, some argue sentencing for other substances no longer matches societal norms and attitudes. There are growing calls to align once-stiff trafficking laws with the new status quo.
These trends contribute to shifting political winds around drug sentencing reform. For example, Colorado enacted HB19-1263 in 2019 to make possession of less than 4 grams of many controlled substances a misdemeanor. Additional efforts toward reform seem likely in coming years as public attitudes evolve.
Navigating Colorado’s complex drug trafficking laws requires experienced legal guidance. The state imposes strict mandatory minimum prison sentences based on the charges and quantities involved. Building an aggressive defense is critical, whether based on challenging evidence, disputing intent, or claiming duress or entrapment. As views on drug criminalization evolve, Colorado may see additional reform efforts in coming years as well. But under current statutes, securing top legal advocacy remains key for anyone facing trafficking accusations.