Drug Trafficking (Distribution)

An Overview of Drug Trafficking and Distribution

When hearing or reading about drug trafficking, many people think of someone importing illegal drugs over state lines or across country borders. However, the term actually has a much broader definition. Drug trafficking, often referred to as distribution, involves the illegal import, transport and sale of drugs.

Drug trafficking generally goes hand-in-hand with the crime of drug possession. People charged with possession may face drug trafficking charges if they intended to sell the drugs. Factors that lead to trafficking charges might include the suspect possessing large amounts of cash or large quantities of the drug.

Trafficking generally involves illegal controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, but it can also involve the illegal distribution of prescription drugs, such as hydrocodone or sleeping pills.

What Are Controlled Substances?

Controlled substances are those whose use and distribution are controlled by law. These substances generally have the potential to negatively affect a person's health or welfare. While some controlled substances, such as LSD and Ecstasy, are illegal in most cases, other controlled substances may be legal if they are obtained through legal means, such as through medical prescriptions.

Controlled substances are generally separated into different levels, called schedules, based on their potential for abuse and how dangerous they are. The classification of each drug varies by state, although most states model their schedules after federal law. On the federal level, substances like heroin and morphine are considered Schedule I drugs while small amounts of codeine and opium are lower on the scale at Schedule V. The level of drug schedule can affect the potential sentence.

Penalties for Drug Trafficking

Penalties for drug trafficking can vary depending on jurisdiction and the quantity and type of substance. However, drug trafficking is usually considered a felony and can result in sentences from three years to life in prison.

Under federal law, trafficking 1 to 9 grams of LSD, a Schedule I drug, can result in a prison sentence of 5 to 40 years and a fine of up to $5 million. Distribution of 500 to 4999 grams of cocaine, a Schedule II drug, can result in the same penalties. Larger quantities of those drugs, however, can raise the penalty to 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.

Other factors can increase sentences for drug trafficking. In California, for example, transporting a drug over county lines to a nonadjacent county can raise the maximum sentence from 5 to 9 years in prison. In Florida, a defendant with prior felony convictions is labeled a career criminal, and he or she may receive a harsher sentence.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Someone who has been charged with drug trafficking may find it beneficial to seek the help of a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help to better understand the consequences of a conviction and use a number of strategies to have the charges dropped or reduced. The lawyer reviews police reports and other evidence to put up a defense like entrapment or that drugs were strictly for personal use.

If evidence was obtained illegally, such as in a warrantless search conducted without probable cause, a defense lawyer may try to get the drugs deemed inadmissible at trial. Criminal defense attorneys also try to negotiate with prosecutors to have charges or potential penalties reduced. This strategy may involve an agreement that provides for the defendant entering a plea of guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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