The term drug smuggling refers to the act of transporting drugs from one area to another. This would be for distribution, possession, use, or sale purposes. Some examples of the most commonly smuggled drugs include, but are not limited to:

  • Cocaine;
  • Heroin;
  • Cannabis;
  • 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (“MDMA”), also known as ecstasy or molly; and
  • Methamphetamine.

Such drugs are generally made or grown in one part of the world, and are then transported to other countries. Drug smuggling includes inter-country, inter-region, or inter-state activities.

Drug smuggling and drug trafficking are used interchangeably, and both terms are used to describe the act of transporting drugs from one location to another. As such, the two are largely the same. However, drug trafficking or smuggling is different than being in possession of drugs. This is due to the amount of drugs that a person has in their possession, as well as their intent to distribute.

Generally speaking, drug trafficking laws cover the different stages of drug distribution. This goes beyond the specific sale of drugs and can include:

  • Purchasing;
  • Delivering;
  • Transporting;
  • Importing; and/or
  • Transferring.

Drug smuggling specifically occurs when a person possesses a large amount of drugs, and they intend to transfer, sell, import, and transport those drugs illegally. It can also happen when a person attempts to smuggle drugs across country borders, such as from the United States into Mexico. Some examples of the different ways in which smuggling drugs can happen include, but may not be limited to:

  • Giving drugs to another person tasked specifically with smuggling those drugs;
  • Advertising the sale of drugs;
  • Shipping drugs through the mail;
  • Coordinating drug transportation; and/or
  • Selling drugs to another person.

Is Drug Smuggling a Felony Crime? How Is Drug Smuggling Punished?

As with drug trafficking, drug smuggling is considered to be a felony crime. If convicted of drug smuggling, the type of sentence a defendant will receive depends on the drug trafficked, as well as the jurisdiction or the area of distribution. Penalties for drug smuggling may also depend on whether weapons and/or children were involved in the process.

An example of the varying degrees of penalties for drug smuggling would be the difference between cannabis and heroin. A cannabis trafficking sentence generally includes a prison sentence of three to fifteen years, and a fine of approximately $200,000. Alternatively, a sentence for heroin trafficking includes a prison sentence of three to 25 years, and a fine of approximately $500,000.

Each state has its own laws on drug smuggling, which govern what constitutes the crime as well as how the crime is to be punished. However, the federal government also prosecutes drug smuggling offenses. Federal charges may occur whenever any drug smuggling activity crosses state lines, or if it involves criminal activity in more than one state. Another example of the difference between federal and state drug laws would be the severity of the punishment. Federal drug smuggling convictions generally harsher penalties, as well as longer prison sentences.

Even first time offenders can face prison sentences, which can last for more than a year. It is not uncommon for a trafficking conviction to result in sentences of ten years or more, depending on the state laws. Probation may be a possibility in some drug smuggling cases, although this is usually only offered as part of a plea bargain in which the offender agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Will I Lose Any Rights If I Am Convicted of Drug Smuggling? What Is Asset Forfeiture?

A felony drug smuggling conviction could result in the loss of civil rights and federal benefits. The offender may be required to forfeit any assets or property obtained in relation to drug smuggling or trafficking. This is referred to as asset forfeiture which generally occurs when a person is convicted of a drug crime with a penalty of more than one year in prison. When the government confiscates a person’s assets, they are not returned.

Asset forfeiture happens when a person’s assets or property are confiscated by the state, and may also be known as “asset seizure” or simply “confiscation.” Criminal asset forfeiture allows the government to take the property of persons who have been convicted of certain crimes, when that property is used to further a specific crime. Forfeiture may also be utilized when the property is otherwise connected to a crime.

In many cases involving criminal asset forfeiture, it is actually money that is confiscated. An example of this would be when authorities seize the profits from drug sales. Another example of criminal asset forfeiture would be if a person was convicted of making drugs in their home. They may face a governmental seizure of their home in order to prevent the individual, or criminal organization, from continuing to produce illegal drugs in that same location.

It is important to note that not all property is subject to criminal asset forfeiture. In general, the government can only take property if the property was used during a crime, and/or the property was obtained as a result of criminal activity.

An example of this would be how a car may be seized by the government if the vehicle was used to traffic drugs. Because the property was used during the commission of a crime, it could become subject to criminal asset forfeiture. Items such as vehicles or homes may be seized if they were purchased with money that came from selling illegal weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

When determining whether to seize assets, the government will assess a person’s property in order to determine if it meets the following criteria:

  • Confiscating the property is allowed under the specific state’s laws, or federal forfeiture laws;
  • The owner of the property was convicted or is being convicted of a crime; and
  • They can prove a strong and undeniable connection between the property and the criminal activity, or the government can otherwise justify confiscating the property from the owner.

Another penalty for drug smuggling or trafficking involves immigration. Felony convictions can negatively affect a person’s immigration status if they are not yet a U.S. citizen. Being found guilty of a felony such as drug smuggling could cause a person to forfeit their right to apply for citizenship.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Facing a Drug Smuggling Charge?

If you are being accused of drug smuggling, you will need to consult with a local and experienced drug lawyer immediately. As can be seen, drug smuggling is a very serious crime with harsh penalties, and the laws involved vary from state to state. As such, you will need to work with someone in your area, as they will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws.

An attorney will also be able to determine whether any legal defenses that are available to you based on the specifics of your case, such as the innocent owner defense to criminal asset forfeiture.

An experienced and local drug attorney may also be able to assert that your property should not be confiscated because you are innocent of the alleged crime(s) connected with the property. Finally, an attorney will protect your legal rights throughout the criminal process, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.