Drug trafficking encompasses illegal actions such as selling, transporting or importing controlled substances. This crime, also called drug distribution, carries heavier federal and state penalties than drug possession.
No matter the size of the drug operation, federal trafficking charges can apply to anyone.
What constitutes a federal drug trafficking felony?
The presiding court looks to the following factors to determine whether the trafficking is a federal offense:
- Federal officers made the arrest (i.e. national park police or the Drug Enforcement Agency)
- Death cases linked to areas outside of the state
- Illegal prescriptions and Medicare fraud
- Money laundering
- Large sums of money
- Transportation of controlled substances between state lines
- Possessions of large quantities of illicit drugs (i.e. cocaine, heroin, some prescription medications)
The investigating agency or prosecutor typically are the ones who decide whether to press state or federal charges. This choice matters greatly since the state sentencing minimums for drug-related charges are less harsh than federal consequences.
What are the penalties?
The consequences depend on the size of the operation, the type of controlled substance and the amount of drugs. Some drug crimes carry mandatory federal sentences. A judge may increase prison time depending on the presence of any “enhancements” such as selling narcotics in a school zone. A drug trafficking charge might also mean other penalties such as the seizure of business assets and possible immigration consequences.
Overall, since both state and federal governments view drug trafficking as a serious criminal offense, an arrest for such activities can change someone’s entire life.