Drug trafficking is the crime of distributing controlled substances. It encompasses the importing, transporting or selling of these substances. The substances may be prescription drugs that dealers transport and sell illegally.
What Are Controlled Substances?
A controlled substance is a chemical that the federal government regulates. The government categorizes substances under the Controlled Substances Act. The category each drug belongs to depends on the drug’s use by the medical community and whether or not it has the potential to be abused or cause dependence. For example, Schedule I drugs do not have a legitimate use in the medical community, and they present a high potential for being abused. Examples include ecstasy, methaqualone, peyote, marijuana, LSD and heroin.
The Charge of Drug Trafficking
Drug trafficking is similar to drug possession, but trafficking takes things a step farther. To be guilty of drug trafficking, you must also know that you are in possession of an illegal substance. The charge is elevated when the prosecution demonstrates that the perpetrator also sold, transported or imported these substances. He or she may show that the perpetrator intended to sell or distribute the drugs. With this being the case, this crime becomes a felony.
During the trial, a prosecutor must present evidence that demonstrates that the defendant does not possess these substances for his or her personal use. Instead, they must convince the jury that the defendant had plans to sell the substances so that it will convict the defendant on drug trafficking charges. The prosecutor does this by presenting evidence that was found at the scene. This may include plastic baggies or a scale. Sometimes, law enforcement officials find a large sum of money on the premises or records that list each sale. Witnesses may even testify that they purchased drugs from the defendant.
You can be charged with drug trafficking even if you had no intention of distributing the drug. You would be arrested on drug trafficking charges if you were found to be in possession of an illegal substance in a particular amount. For example, an individual may be arrested with 1,000 kilograms of a mixture that contains heroin.
Penalties for Drug Trafficking
If you are convicted of drug trafficking, you may receive very serious penalties. It will be a federal case if the perpetrator transported drugs across state lines. You can be charged with drug trafficking whether you are a local drug dealer or a leader of a cartel. On average, those charged with drug trafficking received a prison sentence of 76 months. A total of 96.3% of this population received a prison sentence.
Penalties depend on the amount of the substance and the type. For example, drug trafficking of 500-4,999 grams of cocaine results in a prison sentence between five years and 40 years for a first offender. If a death or serious bodily injury resulted, a first offender would receive a sentence of at least 20 years in prison or a maximum life sentence.
If convicted on a second offense, the penalties will be even more severe. For example, for the trafficking of marijuana, a conviction on a second offense may result in a prison sentence between 20 years and a life sentence. If a death resulted, the penalty increases to a mandatory life sentence. An individual offender also receives a fine of at least $8 million.
Drug Trafficking Charges
If you have been arrested on a drug trafficking charge, you must hire a federal drug crime attorney. The country is in the middle of a devastating opioid epidemic, so the federal government is combating this problem with harsh prosecution of drug offenses. You need an attorney to make sure that the federal government does not take advantage of you and prosecutes your case fairly.
A criminal defense attorney may be able to have these drug trafficking charges dropped. He or she may be able to have your charges reduced. Your attorney may be able to work out a plea agreement with the prosecution so that you will not be susceptible to the harsh penalties that were listed above.
In order to prove that you are guilty of drug trafficking, the DA must demonstrate the following:
- You knew that you were in possession of controlled substances.
- You actively transported, sold or imported the substance, or you had the intention of distributing or selling the controlled substance.
To be accused of being in “control” of a substance, you do not have to have it in your possession. All that is required is the intention or the ability to take control of the substance. To prove distribution, the prosecution must demonstrate with physical evidence that you were engaged in transporting the controlled substance.
Your attorney has several defenses that he or she can present at your trial. These include the following:
- The defense can claim that you thought the substance you were dealing with was legal.
- Someone may have entrapped you.
- You had no intention of selling or distributing the drugs in your possession.
- The drugs were not in your possession.
- You didn’t know that the drugs existed.
- The arresting officer did not have probable cause to arrest you.
- The evidence that the prosecution received was the result of an illegal search or seizure.
- The prosecution cannot prove that you are guilty of drug trafficking beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you have been charged with drug trafficking, you must hire a criminal defense attorney with experience in the federal court system. A drug trafficking case tried in a state court will be different from one that goes forward in the federal court, so your attorney must have tried cases in the federal court system before.