Drug Trafficking: How it Works and What to Do

Drug Trafficking

When a small amount of narcotics are found by law enforcement, sometimes the penalties can be severe. But when a massive amount of narcotics are seized by the police, those penalties can be life altering. Charges that involve a large weight of drugs are called Trafficking Charges, and they carry harsh sentences in prison regardless of the accused’s criminal history. If the type and the weight of narcotic in question reaches a certain threshold, these automatic active prison sentences apply.

Trafficking charges have three main characteristics: the type of drug activity, the type of substance, and the weight of the substance. Like many other drug felonies, trafficking drugs can result in separate charges based on the activities alleged in court. All trafficking statutes punish anyone who sells, manufactures, delivers, transports, or possesses a controlled substance. Any number of those activities can be charged individually.

For instance, if a kilogram of cocaine is found in a car, the driver would likely be charged with both trafficking by possession of cocaine as well as trafficking by transportation of cocaine. Undercover officers will often try to arrange a deal with a potential suspect to secure additional charges for trafficking by selling drugs and trafficking by delivering drugs. Each separate charge carries a separate sentence and gives the state further leverage against the accused.

Once the type of trafficking activity is determined, the state then needs to prove that there was a controlled substance involved and provide the total amount of that substance. The materials that were taken by the police will be sent to the crime lab for testing. That testing results in a $600 laboratory fee assessed against the accused. Lab technicians will carefully unwrap the substance to be tested and run chemical tests on it using a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. These complex machines break down the parts of tiny samples and use light and gas to separate materials. The crime lab uses the results of these machines to analyze the type of substance to determine if it is contraband or not.

The lab will also use calibrated scales to weigh the precise amount of the substance once they identify it. Most of the time, the officers who weighed the substance will not have decent scales and they will vastly overstate the amount of material they seized. This can sometimes result in trafficking cases being dismissed since the charges depend entirely on the weight of the substance. Sometimes certain drugs are cut, whether the item in question is a bottle full of pain-relieving pills or cocaine mixed with other fillers. Trafficking charges are particularly dangerous because the law includes the full weight of the substance and doesn’t make any distinction for which part is drug and which part is not.

Depending on the type and weight of the substance identified by the lab, there are different penalties under the law. These are commonly referred to as “levels” of trafficking. The higher the number of levels, the worse the potential sentences become. Each type and amount of substance is given a letter that indicates which class of felony they are prosecuted as for the purposes of criminal history. However, the penalties for trafficking are uniquely punished by North Carolina law. For example, possession of 40 pounds of marijuana is level one trafficking, punished by 25 to 39 months of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine as a Class H felony. But possession of one ounce of heroin or an opioid is level 3 trafficking, a Class C felony punishable by 225 to 282 months in prison and a $500,000 fine. So the type and amount of substance can have a drastic effect on sentencing. These sentences are not dependent on prior record level and they are the same for a first-time offender.

You can see these penalties in the chart below courtesy of the UNC School of Government:

Drug Trafficking: How it Works and What to Do

If you or a loved one is charged with drug trafficking, having the right attorney to help you is absolutely essential. These charges lead to financial ruin and lengthy time behind bars. The science and the police issues involved are technical and require an eye for the smallest detail. The window to beat them can be narrow and it requires a lawyer with enough expertise to get the job done. There’s no reason to take any chances at all. The attorneys here at Jetton and Meredith are here to fight for you, so call us now at (704) 333-1114 today!