Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking, also known as drug distribution, is the crime of selling, transporting, or illegally importing unlawful controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or other illegal drugs.

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Proving Drug Trafficking

The crime of drug trafficking is similar to drug possession since it requires that the perpetrator knowingly possesses an illegal controlled substance. Thus, an individual cannot engage in drug trafficking while being unaware that he or she is in possession of a drug, or if he or she reasonably but mistakenly believes that the substance is legal.


Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties

Under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), the government divides drugs into five schedules based on their perceived abuse potential, medical utility, and safety concerns, with Schedule I drugs having the highest potential for abuse. The specific schedule and type of drug can also affect how much of the substance will result in trafficking charges and resulting penalties.

The manufacture, distribution, or possession with the intent to distribute drugs can trigger a 10-year minimum sentence for:

  • 1 kg or more of heroin;
  • 5 kg or more of cocaine;
  • 280 g or more of crack;
  • 100 g or more of pure PCP;
  • 10 g or more of LSD;
  • 1000 kg or more of marijuana; or
  • 50 g or more of pure methamphetamines (500 g of meth mixture).

A second offense can mean 20 years in prison, and a third offense can result in a life sentence. If, as a result of drug trafficking someone dies or suffers serious bodily injury, the penalties can double to a minimum of 20 years, with a life sentence for a subsequent offense.

There is even a mandatory minimum sentence for smaller amounts, with 5 years in federal prison for:

  • 100 g or more of heroin;
  • 500 g or more of cocaine;
  • 28 g or more of crack;
  • 10 g or more of pure PCP;
  • 1 g or more of LSD;
  • 100 kg or more of marijuana; or
  • 5 g or more of pure methamphetamines (50 g of meth mixture).

Conspiracy to traffick in drugs, or attempted trafficking carries the same penalties as the underlying drug trafficking charge. That means that even if no drugs were ever manufactured, purchased, possessed, or sold, an individual attempting to traffick in a large number of drugs can end up with a 20-year minimum sentence.

Penalties can be enhanced if the defendant was trafficking drugs near a school or federal facility, using someone under the age of 18 in their drug operations, or carries a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

In addition to jail time and fines, a federal drug crime conviction can result in forfeiture of real and personal property involved, such as a car or boat. Federal drug convictions can also mean losing the right to buy a gun, loss of a professional license, and even denial for receiving college scholarships and grants.

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