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.
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
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
- 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
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.