The Crime of Drug Distribution

drug-distributionDrug distribution/transporting laws penalize the selling, transport, and illegal import of unlawful controlled substances into the U.S such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, heroin, and “club drugs.” Ownership or sale of these drugs is not necessarily an element of the crime, making intent a factor in the prosecution of distribution/transportation cases.

Transporting of controlled substances over a state line or a country’s border is a federal crime with severe penalties that may include the death penalty for drug “kingpins.” Drug distribution/trafficking laws can implicate a single individual or a broad ring of people involved in the crime. Thus, drug distribution/transportation crimes may fall into a category of crime viewed as an organized illegal activity which can add even more charges to a defendant’s crime and increase the penalties if convicted.

Distribution is the delivery of a controlled substance other than for the administering or dispensing of it. A person is generally guilty of distribution when he transfers a controlled substance to another person. The transfer can be actual, constructive, or attempted. The transfer is actual when a person physically transfers the controlled substance to another; it is constructive, when the government can prove that a person intends to sell or distribute an illegal substance through their actions or when the quantity of drugs in their possession is substantial; it is attempted when the person attempts to transfer the controlled substance to another, but is otherwise prevented from doing so. Anyone who intentionally participates in bringing about a drug transaction, even if only as a translator, is considered to be a deliverer of a controlled substance, State v. Ramirez (Wash. App. 1991).

Delivery of a drug is the actual or attempted transfer of a drug from one person to another. Delivery and distribution are treated as separate violations under the Controlled Substance Act. Money does not have to change hands for someone to be arrested for the selling of drugs. For instance, you may be found guilty of delivering a controlled substance even when others perform the physical act of delivery and you do not receive any money for the transaction. In one Georgia case, a defendant was present while another person delivered and sold cocaine to anundercover agent. Evidence that the defendant brought a mirror to the transaction in order to help measure the cocaine was all that was necessary for a charge of delivery and sale of drugs. Even though the defendant told police that she received a mere one-half gram of cocaine in exchange for her help with the drug sale, she was convicted for illegal delivery and sale, State v. Luster, 204 Ga. App. 741, 397 S.E.2d 28 (1990).

Dispensing of drugs for medical purposes is allowed under very specific regulations. However should a physician dispense drugs outside the scope of his medical practice, he can be convicted of drug crimes, as in U.S. v. Singh, (4th Cir. 1995), in which a doctor exchanged drugs for sexual favors with patients addicted to prescription drugs.

Transportation and distribution of drugs are much more serious crimes than is the crime of drug possession; and these crimes result in the possibility of severe consequences. Anyone facing drug charges for drug importation, drug transportation, or drug distribution and sale (excluding small amounts of marijuana) are typically charged with a felony. A drug transportation/distribution charge can lead to one or more years in a state prison and a permanent criminal record. Vehicles, homes and other possessions tied into a drug transaction may also have to be forfeited.

The sale of drugs is always a felony charge. A sale of less than 40 kilograms of marijuana is a felony under federal law, and is punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The penalty for the sale of “harder” drugs, cocaine and heroin, can include a life sentence. Sentences and fines are usually based on the quantity of the sale, the prior criminal history of the defendant, the presence of weapons on the defendant during the transaction, and whether minors were involved in the transaction or not.

Mere possession of a controlled substance does not demonstrate specific intent to distribute or sell the drug. Intent cannot be proven by use of direct evidence (evidence based on a witness’s firsthand knowledge) or circumstantial evidence (evidence based on inference); a distributor must know that he/she is in possession of a drug meant for distribution.

Defenses for Distribution/Transportation
Defenses for drug distribution/transportation charges usually involve the violation of the Constitutional rights of the person charged. Due process requires that every element of the crime be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, a high standard when trying to prove the elements in a distribution/transportation crime. In addition, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The unreasonableness depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Other proven successful defenses for distribution/transportation charges include entrapment and illegal surveillance, both of which a person is constitutionally protected against under certain circumstances.

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