A substantial amount of drugs seized every year are at the border. The number of ways drugs enter the United States is limitless, crossing points from Mexico and entry points such as large city International Airports, seaports, cargo shipments, of just smuggled in by the private aircraft and boats.
Importation of drugs is a strictly a federal offense because only the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute someone bringing illegal drugs into the country from outside the boarder. To be convicted of importation the prosecution must prove the illegal drugs crossed the boundary of the United States to enter the country. The penalties under federal law are dictated by the mandatory minimum sentences of the federal drug laws and are based on the drug quantity. For example, a importing 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine will carry a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence and 5 kilogram quantity of a substance containing cocaine will carry a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence. A person may be eligible for a sentence below the mandatory minimum if certain criteria are met. Some of those criteria are as follows:
- No prior felony conviction,
- No firearm present or used,
- The person did not recruit anyone to commit the crime, and
- The person gives truthful statement about the offense to the prosecution.
If you or someone you know is accused of committing any type of drug importation crime, contact Miami attorney Ken Swartz.
To convict a person of importing drugs, the prosecution must show that the person possessing the drugs knows he is in possession of the contraband. That may be proven by circumstantial evidence. For instance, a person carrying a suitcase into the United States which contains a quantity of illegal drugs will have a hard time showing he was not aware that a package in his suitcase contained a valuable contraband. Many persons have entered the Miami International Airport carrying drugs various packaging in their suitcase and claiming no knowledge the packaging contains drugs. In these cases it is often difficult for a person accused to convince a jury he had no knowledge. Even though the defendant does not have to testify, the jury will expect some type of explanation how valuable quantity of drugs was entrusted to a person who did not even know he was carrying the drugs. In U.S. v Quilca-Carpio the court upheld a conviction is a case of similar facts because the court concluded that a smuggler would not likely suffer the presence of unaffiliated by standers in a smuggling venture involving a large quantity of cocaine.
As in any illegal conspiracy, a conspiracy to import drugs from outside the country requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an agreement by two or more persons to import an illegal drug. The essence of a drug conspiracy crime is the agreement to import drugs. To convict a person of participating in a drug importation conspiracy only has to have knowledge the object of the conspiracy was to import drugs. A person who participates in an illegal conspiracy does not have to know all the players or the extent of the conspiracy.
Money laundering charges are often associated with drug conspiracy. Money laundering occurs if the funds are used for drugs or if the ownership of the funds is concealed.
A person who happens to be present when a transaction takes place but is not aware of the illegal drug transaction is not a member of the conspiracy. In this example, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will raise a mere presence defense to a conspiracy charge. For instance, a passenger in a car with another person who is delivering or transporting narcotics is not a participant in the conspiracy.
The penalty for the crime of drug importation will depend largely on the quantity of the drug and the nature of the drug. For instance, the penalty for distribution of crack cocaine or cocaine is 18 times greater than the penalty of powder cocaine. The ratio of crack cocaine to powder cocaine used to be event greater prior to the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act. Similarly, a kilogram of cocaine will carry a substantially greater penalty than a kilogram of marijuana. In federal criminal cases, the penalties can be found in section 2C1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manuel.
Drug conspiracy offenses are serious charges that require the highest quality legal representation. Ken Swartz is a Miami criminal defense lawyer who is a Florida Board certified expert in criminal trial law. With many years of experience, he has represented hundreds of cases involving persons charged with drug conspiracy offenses.