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If an individual is found with small amounts of drugs and no other related criminal activity, they may be charged with drug possession under state or federal law. Individuals are charged with drug possession if they are caught with only enough drugs for personal use. Most people caught possessing small amounts of controlled substances are charged by the state. If an individual is caught with a supply of drugs greater than for personal use, or if there are indicators that the individual does or plans to manufacture, distribute, or sell the drugs in their possession, they will most likely receive federal drug trafficking charges.
Federal convictions are more serious and carry harsher penalties than most state convictions. Individuals convicted of federal drug trafficking charges could be sentenced to serious jail time and face other penalties.
Whether an individual is charged with possession, possession with the intent to distribute, or drug trafficking depends on the amount of drugs found in their possession. Small amounts of controlled substances may be considered for personal use only and result in drug possession charges, depending on the situation. An individual caught in the act of selling, delivering, or otherwise providing illegal drugs to another (usually an undercover officer) may be charged with distribution of controlled substances. If the individual is caught in possession of drugs greater than for personal use, it is assumed there is an intent to sell or distribute, and they could face drug trafficking charges. Whereas “distribution” refers to the actual movement of drugs, “trafficking” is determined by the weight. Both distribution and trafficking of controlled substances are federal offenses and carry harsh penalties.
While drug trafficking laws do not necessarily involve crossing state lines or borders, cases in which individuals or organizations are caught smuggling illegal drugs into the US from other countries such as Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia can incur harsher penalties. These situations could also lead to complicated international charges.
Trafficking charges can include possession with the intent to distribute, distributing, and charges for manufacturing of controlled substances. The specific charges an individual may receive depend on the amount or weight of the drugs found in the individual’s possession as well as the type of drug or drugs found.
Under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), the government divides controlled substances into categories called Schedules. Illegal drugs are categorized into different Schedules based on several factors, including perceived abuse potential, medical use, and safety concerns.
The type of drug found in an individual’s possession and which Schedule it is classified under, and the amount or weight of the controlled substance found will affect the specific charges and penalties the individual is likely to receive. The possession, distribution, or intent to distribute can result in 10 years minimum sentence for:
While an individual could receive a 10-year minimum sentence for their first trafficking offense, the penalty will increase to a 20-year minimum sentence for the second offense. The third offense can result in life imprisonment. If someone dies or is seriously injured due to drug trafficking, the sentence could double and result in a life sentence for a subsequent offense.
If an individual is caught possessing amounts larger than for personal use but smaller than the amounts listed above, there is still a mandatory five years in federal prison. People can receive this sentence for:
Charges for conspiracy to traffic drugs carry a heavy penalty and can result in up to 20 years in federal prison. Even if no drugs were found in the individual’s possession, and no drugs were manufactured or distributed, an individual caught attempting to manufacture, sell, or distribute illegal drugs may still get charged with drug trafficking.
Additionally, penalties for distributing, selling, manufacturing, or attempting to do so near a school or federal facility can be enhanced. Using a person under 18 years of age to help sell or distribute drugs or carrying or using a firearm while engaging in drug trafficking can also extend the sentence received.
Besides prison time, individuals convicted of drug trafficking charges can also face several other consequences, including loss of personal property and assets such as vehicles or boats. Facing federal drug trafficking charges can also result in loss of employment, lost access to college scholarships and grants, inability to purchase a firearm, and loss of professional license.
The police sometimes act as though they are above the law and search for and seize evidence without first obtaining the necessary warrants. If the police have violated your rights, the evidence of their search and seizure of a controlled substance may not be admissible in court.
If you are charged with a federal drug trafficking offense, including selling and distributing illegal drugs, conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances, or possession of dangerous substances, it can feel like you don’t have options, but you do. Consulting a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney can get your charges reduced or even dismissed. Dennis E. Boyle, Attorney at Law, has the skills and attention to detail necessary to advocate for you on a federal level.