Drug trafficking charges are serious business and depending on the type of drug and the amount in possession, and whether you are being charged and prosecuted at the federal level or state level, they can carry stiff penalties including significant jail time.
If you have been charged with drug trafficking there is a lot of information you need to know in order to put up the best defense and determine what the next steps are in your case. It almost goes without saying that the first step is hiring a qualified criminal defense lawyer who understands the complexities of federal and state drug trafficking laws. That way, you’re set up to minimize your sentence or, better yet, work toward getting the charges against you dropped.
To help you begin to navigate this complex topic, here is what you need to know if you have been charged with drug trafficking.
Definition of Drug Trafficking
For starters, it is helpful to have a simple definition of drug trafficking. One workable definition is that drug trafficking is the “selling, transporting or importing [of] illegal drugs.” It should also be noted that the term drug distribution is interchangeable with drug trafficking. However, drug trafficking is different and carries heavier fines and penalties than drug possession.
Federal Drug Trafficking Laws
Drug trafficking is a federal offense, meaning no matter what state you are in you can be arrested and prosecuted for drug trafficking. It is also worth mentioning that under federal law, drug trafficking is a felony and may be subject to mandatory minimums (prison sentences that are required by law to be at least a certain length of time).
Penalties vary depending on the drug and the quantity of the drug. For example, a person found with one kilogram of heroin would be subject to a prison sentence of ten years.
State Drug Trafficking Laws
As you might expect, drug trafficking laws vary from state to state. By way of example, a look at Arizona’s drug trafficking laws can shed light on some of the valuable information you might want to know if you have been charged with this serious drug crime
Because Arizona shares a border with Mexico, drug trafficking charges can be a common offense. However, you do not need to cross the border in the possession of drugs in order to be arrested and prosecuted for drug trafficking. As we’ll see in a minute, Arizona has what are known as threshold amounts, which mean that if you have more than a certain amount of a particular drug you could be charged with drug trafficking.
Drug trafficking in Arizona ranges from a class 6 to a class 2 felony depending on the drug and quantity found in position. For example, the selling or distribution of heroin is a class 3 felony and can be punishable by up to more than twelve years in prison if you were dealing to minors.
According to Arizona law, if a person has more than a specific amount of a particular drug in their possession, they can be charged with drug trafficking. The schedule for the threshold amounts of various drugs is as follows:
- nine grams of cocaine
- nine grams of methamphetamine
- one gram of heroin
- two pounds of marijuana
While it is still illegal to have any amount of these drugs in your possession in Arizona, if you have less than the above amounts you can argue that you were merely in possession of them and thus face lesser charges. However, if you have the above amounts or more, under state law you would automatically be charged with drug trafficking.
Defenses for Drug Trafficking
If you have in your possession the above amounts or more of an illegal narcotic, possession and personal use are not an acceptable defense.
There are, however, several defenses that can be used in a drug trafficking case. If you have been charged with drug trafficking and can prove that you were under duress when you imported, transported, or sold the drugs, you can claim duress as your defense. Other viable defenses include lack of knowledge, illegal search and seizure by law enforcement, and lack of probable cause.
Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Even if you think you can handle your defense yourself because you believe you were under duress or didn’t know you were in possession of an illegal narcotic, it is best to hire a qualified criminal defense attorney to help you with your case. A good drug trafficking lawyer in Phoenix will be able to review your case and determine which defense suits your situation best. They will also know how to make sure your sentence is minimized or the charges are thrown out altogether.