Though many people believe that “drug trafficking” is synonymous with “drug dealing,” the law applies a broader net. Though state laws on drug trafficking differ significantly, all states have laws that punish drug trafficking activity.
You can be convicted of drug trafficking if you manufacture, transport, sell or distribute illegal drugs.
However, drug trafficking is also a crime of weight and measurement. If you are found with a specified amount of any illegal drug you can be convicted of drug trafficking. This is true even if you didn't manufacture, buy, sell, or transport those drugs. If you have drugs in your possession and the amount you have exceeds the legally determined trafficking amount, you can be found guilty of drug trafficking.
- Intent and possession. To be convicted of drug trafficking a prosecutor must show that you possessed the required amount of the illegal drugs and that your possession was intentional. This means, for example, that you cannot be convicted of drug possession if you rent a car in which you later discover a kilogram of cocaine hidden in the dashboard. Knowingly possessing drugs is enough to be convicted of trafficking, but that doesn't mean a prosecutor has to show your state of mind, or mens rea, at the time of possession. If the circumstances show that you had the drugs in your personal possession or had control over where the drugs were, you can be found guilty of drug trafficking.
- Amount. Drug trafficking laws depend upon the amount of drugs you have in your possession, though the specific amount differs depending on the type of drug. For example, a state's laws may define marijuana trafficking as possessing 25 pounds or more of marijuana or 300 pounds or more of marijuana plants. On the other hand, the same state could define trafficking of cocaine as possessing 28 grams or more of cocaine. Anytime you possess an amount of drugs over the trafficking limit you can be convicted of drug trafficking.
- Sale, manufacture, or movement. Drug trafficking charges do not depend on whether you made the drugs, sold them, tried to sell them, or even moved them. Again, the key question in a trafficking charge is whether you had the illegal drug in your possession and if the amount exceeds the limit established by law.
- Federal drug trafficking. While each state has its own laws on drug trafficking, the federal government also prosecutes drug trafficking offenses. Federal drug trafficking charges can arise whenever any trafficking activity crosses state lines or involves activity in more than one state.
Drug Trafficking Penalties
Drug trafficking charges are very serious, and anyone convicted of these crimes can find themselves facing years or decades in prison. Though the severity of the penalties associated with a drug trafficking convictions varies widely by state, all states impose significant penalties for drug trafficking.
- Prison. Drug trafficking convictions, even for first time offenders, typically result in prison sentences that last over a year. A conviction for trafficking can easily result in a prison sentence of 10 years or more, though some states have significantly higher penalties than others. Life sentences are also possible for drug trafficking convictions.
- Fines. The fines associated with a drug trafficking conviction are also serious. State trafficking convictions can commonly come with fines of $25,000 to $100,000 or more. Federal drug trafficking convictions can exceed $10 million.
- Probation. Probation sentences are possible in some trafficking cases, but typically only as part of a plea bargain where the accused agrees to plea guilty to a less serious charge. People sentenced to probation have to meet specific conditions ordered by the court, such as being monitored by a probation officer, submitting to random drug testing, not leaving the state without the probation officer's permission, and not breaking any more laws. Probation sentences usually last at least 12 months, and sentences of three years or more are possible.
- Mandatory minimum sentences. Drug trafficking laws often impose mandatory minimum sentences. This means that a person convicted must serve a specified amount of time and cannot be released on parole until that time has passed. If, for example, you are sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking and your state has a three year mandatory minimum, you cannot be paroled before you finish serving at least three years in prison.
Locate an Attorney
Drug trafficking crimes are some of the more serious criminal charges you can face in any state. Because drug charges often come with steep penalties and mandatory sentences, being convicted of these crime will permanently alter the course of your life. You need to speak to a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after being charged with a drug trafficking crime, or even if you're questioned by the police. An experienced attorney will know how to evaluate the facts of your case, how state and federal drug laws apply to those facts, and give you advice about your options and what you should do. An experienced drug trafficking attorney will be able to advise you about the possibility of plea negotiations or what you can do to challenge the evidence the state has. You should never make any decisions about your case or speak to the police about it until you've contacted a criminal defense lawyer in your area.