Can I be convicted of drug trafficking?

A drug trafficking offense is defined differently under state and federal law. In North Carolina, a drug trafficking offense is defined by the weight of the drugs, or the number of dosage units. Not all controlled substances have trafficking statutes. But for ones that do, the quantity determines the level of trafficking.

In the case of heroin or opiate trafficking, the state merely has to show possession of 4 grams (or mixture of heroin or opiate with some other ingredient resulting in four grams). That quantity of opiates qualifies someone for trafficking under North Carolina’s drug laws, with punishments ranging from 70 months on up.

Different drugs have different punishment ranges under North Carolina’s trafficking laws, with those punishment ranges determined by the weight or quantity of the drug in question. A Wake County District Attorney need not show that the drug was sold, distributed, or exchanged in order to prove a state drug trafficking case.

Federal law operates differently. Anything other than mere possession of a controlled substance is considered trafficking. Whether a drug crime is a trafficking crime also can affect sentencing, insofar as if a weapon, for instance, is used, carried, or possessed in furtherance of the drug trafficking crime, the United States government can additionally prosecute the person for what’s called a 18 USC 924(c) offense.

Under federal law, the quantity of drugs is irrelevant to whether the offense is a drug trafficking offense. Amounts as small as .1 gram can be considered as part of a drug trafficking crime if those amounts were sold or distributed or exchanged.

The quantity of drugs does impact sentencing when it comes to the sentencing guidelines, and in that respect the government can use not just the quantities exchanged during the convicted offense, but also all quantities of drugs historically distributed through what is called “relevant conduct.”

Because of its expansive definition of relevant conduct, federal drug crimes can be punished very severely, and often only after a showing of quantities through a sentencing hearing where the standard is preponderance of evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.