By: Mark Diaz
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When Does Drug Trafficking Become A Federal Crime
When someone is charged with drug trafficking, many assume it is a federal charge. Often, this is the case. However, many drug trafficking charges are tried at the state level in Texas. Whether a drug trafficking case is a state or federal matter depends on the circumstances. If it is a federal charge, there are stiffer punishments.
Learn below about when drug trafficking is a federal crime. If you have been charged with a drug crime, the Galveston drug trafficking attorneys at Mark Diaz & Associates can assist you.
What Is Drug Trafficking?
Drug trafficking in Texas is defined as transporting, distributing, and possessing with the intent to sell illegal drugs. You also can be charged with drug trafficking if you sell and transport prescription drugs without a prescription. Trafficking drugs means the drugs must be in your possession at the time of the arrest.
If the illegal act only happens in Texas, it is usually a state charge. It is a federal charge if it crosses state lines or another country’s border.
You can be charged with state drug trafficking in these ways:
- Transporting narcotics: If you are caught moving narcotics from one place to another, this is transporting them. To be convicted, you must have been transporting the drugs on purpose. You could be charged with drug trafficking, but your attorney may try to prove you did not know you had them.
- A common situation is hiring someone to move a legal shipment of goods from one city to another in Texas. But illegal drugs are placed in the vehicle’s trunk without the driver’s knowledge.
- Distributing narcotics: State law defines this as selling drugs or providing them to someone else to sell.
- Possessing narcotics with the intent to distribute: This is an area where drug possession can be viewed as drug trafficking, a much more serious offense. Possessing drugs with the intent to sell requires Texas to prove you had the drugs to sell them, not just for personal use. Law enforcement or the prosecutor may threaten to charge you with drug trafficking to obtain a confession. Be sure to ask for an attorney before you tell law enforcement about the case.
U.S. Drug Trafficking Facts
There is a good reason state, and federal authorities prosecute drug trafficking aggressively: Drug abuse is a severe issue in the US. Additionally, the abuse of opioids is a significant public health crisis. An increase in opioid abuse has led to more heroin abuse, too. This shows that more people are switching from prescription opioids to heroin, which is often easier to obtain.
Fentanyl is also growing in popularity and is causing more overdose deaths. Much fentanyl is produced in China and Mexico and trafficked into the U.S. Also, there are dangerous variations of fentanyl, including acetyl fentanyl, killing more Americans yearly. Fentanyl is 40 times more potent than heroin.
Many illegal drugs are trafficked into the U.S. from Mexico, where illicit opium has increased in the last decade. The Mexican government reports that it has destroyed 21,400 hectares of opium plants since 2014. From 2010 to 2015, heroin seizures at the southern border increased by 100%.
The DEA reports that drugs trafficked into the U.S. are usually in kilogram or pound blocks. They are taken to a house or apartment where someone processes and bags the pills for sale. When the drugs are broken down, fillers such as caffeine, sugar, and even fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl are added. This bulks up the drug and increases the profits from sales.
Fentanyl is sometimes combined with heroin and can be made into illegal prescription painkillers. These adulterations are almost always done without the end user knowing and can lead to overdose and death. Some users buy these illegal pills online and purchase counterfeit drugs that are dangerous to their health.
Synthetic drugs are also being trafficked into the United States and are disguised as heroin. There are more overdoses with carfentanil, a synthetic drug that is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. This is a growing threat to public health in the U.S. All of these illegal drugs are being trafficked more frequently into the U.S. That is why the state and federal authorities are being more aggressive in prosecuting drug traffickers.
What Are Federal Drug Offenses?
The Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA is charged with investigating felony drug cases. The DEA often focuses on large drug crimes, including drug smuggling from South America in the U.S. However, many drug offenses may be charged at the federal level:
- Drug trafficking
- Drug manufacturing
- Drug conspiracy
- Possession of controlled substances
In many cases, a drug trafficking charge will be prosecuted at the federal level if it happens on federal property. Or it can be a federal charge when the alleged crime involves a federal agent working undercover. Drug trafficking charges are frequently charged as federal crimes because the activity occurs over state lines. You also may face federal drug trafficking charges if you move drugs through the US Postal Service or another mail carrier.
More cases where a drug trafficking charge can become federal include:
- Large amounts of drugs
- Large amounts of drugs moved from one state to another
- Cases involving money laundering
- Cases involving Medicaid and Medicare fraud
- Illegal drug prescription conspiracies
Drug Trafficking vs. Drug Possession
As noted earlier, there can be a fine line between drug possession and drug trafficking. When the police arrest you with illegal drugs, they usually charge you with drug possession. However, the state prosecutor may use circumstantial evidence to prove you plan to sell it.
For example, let’s say you are arrested with six ounces of marijuana. The police find the drugs, baggies, a scale, and a gun in the trunk. The police will use this evidence to argue you were engaged in drug trafficking and distribution. Even if you only intended the drugs for personal use, the circumstantial evidence could lead to a trafficking charge.
Texas Penalties for Drug Trafficking
If you are charged at the state level for drug trafficking, you can receive the following punishments:
- Less than one gram of opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamine: Six months to two years in a Texas jail and a fine up to $4,000.
- Four to 400 grams of hallucinogens other than LSD: Five to 99 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.
- 28 to 400 grams of narcotics: Two to 20 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Federal Drug Conspiracy Charges
It is common for a drug trafficking federal charge to be combined with a drug conspiracy charge. A drug conspiracy is where two or more people agree to commit a drug crime, such as drug trafficking. Also, the American Bar Association states that prosecutors often choose to charge a drug crime at the state or federal level depending on the situation. Your attorney must attempt to get the case charged by the state because federal sentences are more severe.
When a drug conspiracy charge is brought, this is the most common way drug trafficking can be a federal charge.
Defenses To Drug Trafficking Charges
The US Sentencing Commission reported in 2013 there were 22,000 federal drug trafficking cases. Most offenders – 96% – were convicted and sentenced to prison.
While most drug trafficking cases result in a conviction at the state and federal level, there are viable defenses. The best way to approach the case depends on the circumstances. It is best to discuss your case with a Galveston drug trafficking attorney as soon as possible to determine if one of the following defenses can be used:
- Police officers lacked probable cause to search you.
- Law enforcement engaged in an unlawful search and seizure.
- You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not participate in the alleged crime.
- The drugs did not belong to you.
- You were forced or coerced into participating in drug trafficking and related crimes
- The police used entrapment to arrest you.
- You had an alibi that did not place you at the alleged crime scene.
Federal Drug Trafficking Sentencing
Some federal crimes have minimum prison sentences and harsh penalties. The federal judge could have limited discretion when determining how long the prison sentence will be. The idea behind minimum sentencing was to reduce drug use, but some defendants receive unnecessarily harsh penalties.
Talk To Galveston Drug Trafficking Attorneys Today
If you have been charged with drug trafficking in Galveston near Moody Gardens, Galveston Island State Park, or Galveston Island Historic Pier, you face a dire situation. Whether the charge is prosecuted at the state or federal level, you could be sent to prison for years and heavily fined, among other consequences.
Mark Diaz & Associates will provide a strong defense for a Galveston drug trafficking charge. Our criminal defense attorneys also work with clients in Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, League City, Texas City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, Kemah, Clear Lake Shores, Bolivar Peninsula, Dickinson, San Leon. Contact a Galveston criminal defense lawyer at (409) 515-6170