There are many types of crimes involving drugs and controlled substances. One of the most serious, however, is drug trafficking.
Drug trafficking charges cover more than possession of the drug itself. The charges could include behavior such as:
- Possession of an amount greater than for personal use
- Delivery (transportation)
- Importation or exportation of drugs or raw materials
If you are involved in the illegal sale, transport, or importing of an illegal drug or controlled substance, or if you intend to sell or deliver the drug, you could face trafficking charges.
Additionally, while many people may immediately think of illegal drugs when they hear the term “drug trafficking,” the charge is not limited to the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. It can also apply to “controlled substances.” This refers to the illegal sale and distribution of prescription drugs, such as painkillers, opioids, and hydrocodone products.
Trafficking is generally considered one of the most serious drug offenses, much more so than simple drug possession. It usually results in felony charges instead of misdemeanors. If you live in a jurisdiction where felonies are categorized by degree, trafficking charges can result in first-degree felony charges.
How Much Drugs Do I Need to Carry to Be Guilty of Trafficking?
Whether or not a crime is simple possession or drug trafficking depends on the amount of the drug involved and the type of drug involved. While one or two grams of a substance such as cocaine could result in a simple possession charge, 50 grams could have you facing a trafficking charge. Also, the punishment for carrying 10 kg of marijuana compared to 10 kg of heroin can result in very different levels of punishment.
You can be charged with drug trafficking if the police believe you were intending to sell the drugs. Besides the existence of the drugs themselves, evidence tending to indicate that someone intends to sell drugs includes a scale, plastic baggies, firearms, or a large amount of cash.
Is Drug Trafficking a State or Federal Crime?
Put simply: both. All states have laws criminalizing drug trafficking. Often, harsher penalties are available to prosecutors if they charge the case under federal anti-trafficking laws rather than state laws, so they do so if they can.
Drug trafficking can be prosecuted as a federal crime if:
- The drugs crossed state lines
- It is a very large quantity of drugs, which indicates that the offender has a higher position with the drug distribution organization (i.e., the offender is not simply a drug salesperson)
- A federal officer found the drugs
- A federal officer conducted the arrest
- The crime involved any other aspect of federal law, such as money laundering.
As mentioned, federal drug charges tend to carry harsher penalties and longer sentences than state laws, but this will always vary from state to state.
What are Some Examples of Drug Trafficking Penalties?
Some drug trafficking charges will result in more serious penalties than others. Severity depends on the amount and type of drug involved – drugs deemed more dangerous to society at large tend to carry longer sentences.
The specific punishments for drug trafficking depend on your jurisdiction and whether the crime is being charged through the state or the federal system (or perhaps both).
- Marijuana: In cases of marijuana trafficking, a defendant can face anywhere from 3 to 15 years in prison and fines of over $100,000. As in all cases noted here, sentences on the lower range are given to offenders who trafficked a small amount of the drug, and the upper range sentences are given to offenders who are found guilty of trafficking larger amounts.
- Cocaine: Penalties for cocaine trafficking can involve prison time between 3-15 years and fines of up to $250,000.
- Heroin: In cases of heroin trafficking, a defendant can face up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.
- Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine trafficking can be punished by 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.
Sentences can be increased if there are certain aggravating factors (sometimes called “enhancements”) are involved in the case. For example, selling drugs in a school zone or to a minor child are enhancements that can take a trafficking sentence and make it even harsher.
What are Some Examples of Drug Trafficking Penalties?
Trafficking usually has harsher penalties than simple possession. Some drug trafficking charges will result in more serious penalties than others. Severity depends on the type of drug involved—drugs that have been deemed more dangerous to society at large usually carry bigger sentences.
Of course, the punishments for drug trafficking can largely depend on your jurisdiction and whether you are facing state or federal penalties (or perhaps both).
- Marijuana: In cases of marijuana trafficking (depending on the amount), a defendant can face anywhere from 3 to 15 years in prison and fines of over $100,000
- Cocaine: Penalties for cocaine trafficking (depending on the amount) can involve prison time between 3-15 years as well as fines of up to $250,000
- Opioids: Trafficking opioids such as prescription pills: 5-20 years incarceration and fines of up to $500,000
- Heroin: In cases of heroin trafficking (depending on the amount), a defendant can face up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000
Sentences can be even higher if there are certain aggravating factors, sometimes called “enhancements,” are involved in the case. For example, selling drugs in a school zone or to a minor child are enhancements that can take a trafficking sentence and make it even harsher. Other enhancements are the possession of a firearm and having a leadership or supervisory role in the distribution system.
Are there Other Penalties or Punishments for Drug Trafficking?
Besides prison time and fines due to a drug trafficking conviction. These include:
- Loss of Rights and Benefits: Because a drug trafficking conviction is a felony, it can result in your losing several civil rights and federal benefits. For example, convicted felons may lose the right to carry firearms, lose access to federal school loans, and, in some jurisdictions, may lose or have limits imposed on their voting rights. While some of these rights can be reinstated if the defendant fulfills certain requirements, multiple felony convictions may result in these rights being lost permanently.
- Forfeiture of Assets: If you have been convicted of drug trafficking, any assets, money, and property that were obtained in connection with the drug trafficking are usually seized.
- Immigration: Felony convictions, including drug trafficking convictions, can seriously affect a person’s immigration status. For example, a drug trafficking offense on a person’s record can make them subject to immediate deportation, and a history of drug trafficking can make them ineligible for entry or re-entry into the United States. A history of drug trafficking can also make a person ineligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, even if they have family living there.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Facing Drug Trafficking Charges?
Drug trafficking is a very serious offense. If you are facing drug trafficking charges, it is best to consult an experienced drug lawyer as soon as possible.
A lawyer can help you protect your rights and explain the penalties you may be facing. They can also help you figure out the best defense and may be able to help reduce the charges or have them dropped altogether. They will negotiate on your behalf and,, if unsuccessful, will represent you throughout trial and appeal.