The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime issued a World Drug Report in 2005, which estimated the size of the global illicit drug market at $320 billion. At the time, the primary concerns were opioids (specifically heroin) and cocaine.
It has been 18 years, and the UN’s focus has shifted. In the 2020 report, heroin and cocaine are still the drugs most commonly trafficked, but it is prescription drugs that have the UN most worried. Per their report, fentanyl and tramadol use have skyrocketed in the U.S. and Africa, respectively, and the number of people using illegal drugs has increased, which means the number of drugs being trafficked is not likely to drop soon.
What is drug trafficking?
Drug trafficking or drug distribution in the sale, transportation, and import of illegal drugs. This can and does include prescription medications, because prescription medications are also controlled substances; that is why one needs a prescription to access them.
Drug trafficking involves the manufacture and transportation of illegal drugs. You don’t necessarily have to be caught selling drugs in order to face a trafficking charge. It is knowingly possessing the drugs that are enough to support a drug trafficking charge.
Activities that are classified as drug trafficking are:
- Intent and conspiracy to sell and possess a large number of drugs
- Manufacturing of illegal drugs
- Distributing a specified amount of drugs
- Financing a drug-selling operation
- Smuggling drugs across states and national borders
Commonly, heavily trafficked prescription drugs tend to fall into the following categories:
- Opioid painkillers
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants
Can I be arrested for drug trafficking if I have a prescription?
It may depend on how much you have at the time. A person caught with a prescription pill or two is not likely to be charged with trafficking, though he or she may face other criminal charges if law enforcement believes those drugs were obtained illegally, or that the person intended to sell them.
If, however, a person is found to have an excessive number of pills, or an excessive amount of another type of prescription drug, then that person could be charged with drug trafficking. This is why you should always carry a copy of your prescription with you, especially if you have left the bottle at home.
Is drug trafficking a federal or state crime?
Drug trafficking can be charged as a state or a federal crime. Every state has its own laws on drug trafficking. In cases where authorities can prove that the drugs in question were transported between states, trafficking is often prosecuted as a federal crime. If a federal agent is the one who discovered the drugs, or if a federal agency was involved in the search and/or arrest, it will likely be a federal drug trafficking charge.
If the alleged drug trafficking occurred only within a state’s boundaries, then the state laws will apply.
What are the penalties of drug trafficking?
The drug trafficking penalties can vary based on amount, jurisdiction, and prior offenses. Let’s look specifically at fentanyl, which is a prescription medication.
According to Fordham University, the federal penalties for fentanyl distribution include:
Fentanyl (Schedule IV): 40-399 g mixture
Fentanyl Analogue (Schedule I): 10-99 g mixture
- First Offense: Between 5 and 40 years in prison, and/or between $5 million and $25 million in fines. If death or serious injury results from the trafficking, the prison sentence changes to between 20 years and life imprisonment.
- Second Offense: Between 10 years and life imprisonment, and/or between $8 million and $50 million in fines. If death or serious injury results from the trafficking, the prison sentence automatically becomes life imprisonment.
Fentanyl (Schedule IV): 400 g or more mixture
Fentanyl Analogue (Schedule I): 100 g or more mixture
- First Offense: Between 10 years and life imprisonment, and/or between $1- million and $50 million in fines. Not less than 10 years, and not more than life. If death or serious injury results from the trafficking, the prison sentence changes to between 20 years and life imprisonment.
- Second Offense: Between 20 years and life imprisonment, and/or between $20 million and $75 million in fines. If death or serious injury results from the trafficking, the prison sentence automatically becomes life imprisonment.
- 2 or More Prior Offenses: Life imprisonment, and/or between $20 million and $75 million in fines
Texas puts fentanyl in its Penalty Group 1, and its charges and penalties are based on amounts. Trafficking charges are all considered felonies. Per the law, “a person commits an offense if the person knowingly manufactures, delivers, or possesses with intent to deliver a controlled substance listed in Penalty Group 1.” The penalties include:
- Less than one gram: Up to two years in state jail and/or fine of up to $10,000.
- Between one and four grams: Up to 20 years in prison and/or fine of up to $10,000.
- Between 4 and 200 grams: Up to 99 years or life in prison and/or fine of up to $10,000.
- Between 200 and 400 grams: Fines up to $100,000 and “imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life or for a term of not more than 99 years or less than 10 years.”
- For more than 400 grams: Fines up to $250,000 and “imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life or for a term of not more than 99 years or less than 15 years.”
It is not unusual for penalties to combine, resulting in far greater punishment. You must be mindful that it is unlikely for you to get just one punishment.
Lastly, there are consequences beyond prison time and fines. A felony conviction could mean a loss of civil rights and federal benefits. In some cases, the offender may be required to relinquish any assets or property that was acquired with the drug trafficking. Felonies, like drug trafficking convictions, can also have a harmful impact on an individual’s immigration status given they are not a citizen of the US.
Are you facing drug trafficking charges in Texas? Your freedom is at stake. The experienced Killeen criminal defense attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm can help you fight the drug charges. Call our office at 254-680-4655 or complete a contact form on our website to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Killeen and Copperas Cove, serving clients throughout the great state of Texas.
I’ve dedicated my legal career to defending my clients. I demand all the evidence. I investigate all the facts, the so-called witnesses and even the police officers. I make it my business to know the law. Cases can be won or lost before you even set foot inside the courtroom.
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