Drug trafficking or drug distribution involves doing the following with illegal drugs and controlled substances:
- Transporting; and
- Illegally importing.
Although many individuals may believe that drug trafficking and drug dealing are the same, there are slight differences between the two. For example, due to the fact that drug trafficking also involves transporting, manufacturing, or importing illegal drugs, an individual does not have to be caught selling the substance in order to face trafficking charges if they are involved in other related activities.
Knowingly possessing certain drugs is enough to support a drug trafficking charge if the surrounding circumstances satisfy the requirements. Examples of activities that may be classified as drug trafficking include:
- The intent to sell or a conspiracy to sell as well as possession of a large amount of drugs;
- Manufacturing of illegal drugs and controlled substances;
- Distributing a specified amount of drugs;
- Financing a drug-selling operation; and
- Smuggling drugs across national borders or state lines.
How Much of the Substance Must Be Present for a Drug Trafficking Charge?
The amount of an illegal substance that must be present for a drug trafficking charge will depend on the circumstances of the case. Whether an offense will be charged as simple possession of an illegal substance or as drug trafficking will depend on the amount of the drug and the type of the drug that is involved.
For example, being in possession of three grams of marijuana can result in a possession charge. In contrast, being in possession of 25 pounds of marijuana can result in a trafficking charge.
It is important to note that the possession of as little as a few grams of heroin or cocaine may result in trafficking charges, depending on the laws of the state.
Can You Traffic Legalized Marijuana?
There are some states that have legalized the possession and use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, which makes the issue more complicated. It is important to note that under deferral laws, marijuana is still illegal, even if a state legalizes it on a local level.
This means that a defendant may still face federal trafficking charges if they are located in a state that has legalized marijuana. If an individual finds themself in this situation, they should consult with an experienced attorney regarding their case.
Is Drug Trafficking a Federal or State Crime?
Depending on an individual’s case circumstances, drug trafficking may be both a federal crime and a state crime. Every state has its own laws governing drug trafficking.
In many states, the laws are modeled on the federal trafficking laws. Trafficking is also commonly prosecuted as a federal crime in cases where the prosecution can prove that the drugs involved were transported across state lines.
If the drug trafficking only occurred within the boundaries of the state, the laws of that state would apply. Drug trafficking may also be a federal crime in the following situations:
- The case involves a very large amount of drugs;
- A federal officer made the discovery of the drugs or the arrest; or
- The circumstances of the case involve another aspect of federal law, for example, if the drug trafficking was just part of a larger money laundering or racketeering operation.
What Are the Penalties for Drug Trafficking?
Drug trafficking is classified as a felony. It is a more serious offense than mere drug possession.
Because of this, the penalties for drug trafficking are typically more serious than those imposed for a simple possession crime. Generally, federal drug trafficking charges carry heavy penalties and longer sentences than state drug trafficking charges.
However, no matter the law that a defendant was charged under, if they are convicted of drug trafficking, they will likely face quite a hefty sentence. The punishment a defendant may face will depend largely on their jurisdiction as well as whether they are facing state penalties, federal penalties, or both.
Common penalties for drug trafficking may include:
- Prison: Even for first-time offenders, a prison sentence in a case of drug trafficking may be for more than a year. It is common for a trafficking conviction to result in sentences of 10 years or more, depending on the state laws;
- Fines: Fines associated with drug trafficking offenses are typically fairly substantial. For example:
- State convictions commonly result in fines of $25,000 to $100,000 or more.
- Federal drug trafficking convictions can see fines in the hundreds of thousands at the least; and
- Probation: Probation can be possible in some drug trafficking cases, but this is typically only an option as part of a plea bargain. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge with a plea bargain.
The penalties a defendant faces may also combine the above-listed consequences. It is important to remember that it is unlikely for an individual to receive just one of the punishments listed above.
What Other Consequences Are There for Drug Trafficking?
In addition to the prison time and fines, a conviction for drug trafficking may also have other consequences. A felony conviction may result in the loss of civil rights and federal benefits.
The defendant may also be required to give up any assets or property obtained concerning the drug trafficking. A felony conviction, including a drug trafficking conviction, may also harm an individual’s immigration status if they are not a U.S. citizen.
Following a drug trafficking conviction, because it is a felony, may result in the defendant losing multiple civil rights and federal benefits. For example, a convicted felony may:
- Lose the right to carry firearms;
- Lose access to federal school loans; and
- In some jurisdictions, convicted defendants may have limits imposed on their voting rights or may lose them entirely.
Some of these rights may be reinstated if a defendant fulfills certain requirements. However, having multiple felony convictions may result in those rights discussed above being permanently lost.
If a defendant is convicted of drug trafficking, an individual may be required to give up any property, money, and assets obtained in connection with the drug trafficking. The seizure of assets is typically required for many felony drug offenses.
What Are the Immigration Consequences of a Drug Trafficking Conviction?
A felony conviction, including a drug trafficking conviction, may have serious implications for an individual’s immigration status. For example, having a drug trafficking offense on an individual’s record can make them subject to immediate deportation.
In addition, a history of drug trafficking may make the defendant ineligible for entry or re-entry into the United States. Having a history of drug trafficking may also make an individual ineligible to apply for United States citizenship, even if they have family living in the country.
Individuals must understand the charges they face and the possible penalties that may be imposed upon them. If they are convicted, the penalties may have major consequences.
Depending on the jurisdiction, an individual may be eligible for alternative sentencing measures. Alternative sentencing, however, is typically subject to very strict eligibility requirements.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer If I Am Facing Charges of Drug Trafficking?
Drug trafficking charges are very serious. A conviction for this offense may have serious consequences in all aspects of your life.
Because of this, if you are facing drug trafficking charges, it is in your best interests to talk to a qualified drug lawyer as soon as you can. Your lawyer can discuss the specific circumstances of your case with you, explain the penalties you may be facing, and help you protect your rights.
Your lawyer can also help you figure out the best way forward with your case, represent you in court, and even may be able to help reduce the charges you are facing.