Drug Trafficking is a Global Business
The crime of drugs trafficking is considered the most serious of all drug offenses. The punishment for drug trafficking depends on the type and quantity of the controlled substance being trafficked and the circumstances under which the drug is transported. The penalties for drugs trafficking are enhanced if the drugs are sold to or distributed by minors or the drugs are handled in a school zone or other protected area. It is difficult to determine in advance the exact penalty a particular drug trafficking offense will carry, but it is extremely rare for an offender to get off lightly.
The illegal drug trade is a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of controlled drugs. Most jurisdictions in the United States prohibit trade of controlled substances, except with certain special licenses, that are rarely issued. Drug trafficking operates through various drug cartels that specialize in one of several separate processes along a supply chain that is often localized to maximize production efficiency and minimize damages caused by encounters with law enforcement. Per the profitability of each layer of the cartel, the size, consistency, and organization of each link in the chain vary. The chain moves from low-level street dealers, who may be drug users themselves, through street gangs and deal-making middle men, up to multinational empires.
Certain links in the trafficking chain grow illegal drugs in wilderness areas, on farms, produce crops in indoor and outdoor residential gardens and are located anywhere these products can be grown. The common characteristic of these locations is that they are discreet so as to avoid detection and are usually located in ordinary setting that will not raise suspicion of neighbors or the public. A great deal of illegal drug cultivation and manufacture takes place in developing nations, although some production does occur in developed countries.
The majority of illegal drugs available in the United States are supplied by multiple foreign and domestic based drug trafficking organizations. Mexican groups, however, are the most influential drug traffickers to the United States and are expected to remain so for some time to come. Other traffickers who smuggle illegal drugs into the United States include Colombian, Dominican, Asian, Russian-Israeli, and Jamaican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups.
Mexican drug traffickers are particularly influential in the transporting of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines for distribution in the United States. Street gangs and prison gangs have established relationships with Mexican drug trafficking organizations which have enabled them to evolve from primarily retail distributors of illegal drugs into smugglers, transporters, and wholesale distributors of them. These street and prison gangs are most notably active in rural and suburban areas of the United States. Some of these street gangs are highly organized, with as many as 100,000 members.
Drug trafficking is heavy worldwide, according to the 2008 National Drug Threat Assessment, and even though many countries have drug trafficking penalties that include the death penalty, drug trafficking continues to prosper. The United States Customs Service, an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department, is the primary enforcement agency that is designated to protect the United States’ borders from various threats. It is the only border agency with an extensive air, land, and marine interdiction force with an investigative component supported by its own intelligence branch, making The United States Customs Service a major player in the United States’ war on drugs.
Federal drug trafficking laws are stringent. Drug trafficking and possession offenders are subject to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, which means if a person is convicted of a drug trafficking offense, they will be automatically given a predetermined incarceration sentence and fine. These penalties and fines vary from one year to life and from $1,000 to $250,000, depending upon the type of drug being transported, the quantity transported, and the criminal record of the defendant, among other considerations.
Defenses for drugs trafficking charges usually revolve around the challenge of whether or not the drugs belonged to the defendant, or if the defendant was knowingly involved in the trafficking aspect of the drug transporting activity. If a defendant was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was only involved in buying a small amount of an illegal drug, then the charges are sometimes reduced to a simple drug possession charge. As with other drug charges, defenses for drug trafficking include challenges to search and seizure procedures by arresting law enforcement as protected under the 4th amendment to the Constitution. If violations of the defendant’s Constitutional rights are proven, then the drug trafficking charge must be withdrawn.