Fort Pierce Drug Trafficking Lawyer
Criminal defense law firm representing the Treasure Coast
Drug trafficking is a serious offense that can land you in state or federal prison. Ohle and Ohle represents visitors and residents in the Fort Pierce area in federal drug trafficking cases. We provide highly effective, personalized legal counsel whether you are under investigation for a drug-related crime or if you are officially facing a federal drug charge. Our Fort Pierce drug trafficking defense lawyers will work diligently to obtain the most favorable outcome in your case.
What is drug trafficking?
Also known as drug distribution, drug trafficking is the sale, transportation, or unlawful importation of an illegal substance. Most people think of cocaine, heroin, or marijuana when they hear the term. However, illegally selling or transporting prescription drugs is also known as drug trafficking. An indication of the intent to sell the drugs differentiates the crime of trafficking from a drug possession offense. If an individual is arrested with a small quantity of drugs, he or she may be charged with possession. However, people who are caught with large quantities of drugs that exceed personal use are more likely to be charged with possession with the intent to distribute or drug trafficking.
Why drug trafficking is common in Florida
Florida is a hub for drug trafficking. There are several reasons many drug traffickers choose the Sunshine State as their preferred point of entry. Florida’s coastline is the second-longest of all 50 U.S. states. Located in the southeastern-most corner of the country, Florida’s shores are in relatively close proximity to the Caribbean islands, Central America, and the northeastern coast of South America. Once the drugs arrive on Florida’s shores, the state’s well-developed infrastructure allows for transportation and distribution to major cities throughout the Eastern U.S. The state’s diverse population allows members of international drug trafficking organizations to blend in more easily and avoid immediate detection.
Drug trafficking by sea
The state’s long coastline offers a wider window of opportunity for smuggling operations to bring drugs into the state by boat. Because Florida’s coast has a high volume of boat traffic, law enforcement agencies find it challenging to distinguish smugglers’ boats from other vessels. Drugs also arrive by sea to Florida’s ports from drug-producing countries in Europe and Asia.
Transportation and distribution
Many of the drugs that arrive in the U.S. travel directly from or pass through drug-producing and transshipment countries in Latin America. In addition to using maritime vessels, drug traffickers use commercial and private planes, and even shipping companies to move illegal drugs into Florida.
Once inside the state’s borders, drug traffickers mainly use private cars and commercial trucks to transport the drugs further into the country’s interior. Illegal drug organizations sometimes use buses and railcars to transport drugs from city to city. New York and Atlanta are the most common destinations for illegal drugs that arrive into the country. The two cities serve as major transportation hubs for the movement of people, legal goods, and illicit products like drugs.
Currently ranking as the fourth most populous state in the U.S., Florida has a population of approximately 16 million. The state’s 12 largest metropolitan areas are home to 10 million residents. High population density and ethnic diversity allows drug organizations from other countries to operate more easily. Members of crime organizations from Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and other countries are able to blend in with law-abiding residents from the same countries. In some instances, criminal organizations recruit members of local communities in Florida to assist with trafficking drugs or laundering money.
The largest cities offer the most concealment for groups that import illegal drugs. However, some drug trafficking organizations make use of the state’s rural regions for producing methamphetamine and growing marijuana.
When do drug charges become federal?
Drug trafficking can be prosecuted by the federal government or by the state. In some cases, a defendant may be charged with a state and federal crime based on a single arrest. There are several ways a drug trafficking charge may become a federal matter. The federal government will have jurisdiction over a drug trafficking case if:
- the seller used the U.S. Postal Service or a private mail carrier to make drug sales
- the trafficking activity took place on federal property
- the seller was arrested on federal property
- a federal law enforcement agent made the arrest
- transportation or drug sales activity crossed a state line or international border
Who investigates federal drug crimes?
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is primarily responsible for investigating federal drug-related offenses. However, federal agencies often work together to gather evidence and make arrests in drug cases. Federal agencies will even work with state and local law enforcement agencies to share resources and conduct covert operations. In Florida the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection play significant roles in securing the state’s maritime borders and detecting drug trafficking. The FBI and IRS are examples of other agencies that may assist with a drug trafficking investigation.
How federal agencies catch drug traffickers
Federal law enforcement agencies often conduct sting operations to gather information and arrest participants in drug trafficking organizations. During a sting operation, one or more undercover law enforcement officers will disguise themselves as people who have an interest in the illicit drug trade. Undercover officers often pose as:
- drug purchasers
- drug dealers
- people who have the means to transport drugs from one place to another location
- people who are looking for transport drugs as part of their operation.
The officers will set up meetings, make transactions, and build relationships with people who are involved in criminal operations. With each meeting, the officers try to infiltrate the operation further and obtain more information they can use to make an arrest and support a criminal case. When the government obtains the information it needs, the federal agents will make one or more arrests.
You don’t have to actually traffic drugs to be charged with a federal crime. If the federal government believes you are part of an illegal drug trafficking scheme, you may be charged with conspiracy even if the drugs do not exist. A federal government may convict a defendant on a drug trafficking conspiracy charge only if the prosecution proves:
- the defendant knowingly entered into an agreement with at least one other party to traffic drugs
- the defendant took a substantial step or overt action toward furthering the plan to traffick drugs
For federal prosecutors, conspiracy is often a favorable charge to pursue because federal law does not require proof that the planned crime ever took place. Therefore, prosecutors are often able to charge large numbers of individuals at once in the interest of investigating and dismantling drug rings.
Unfortunately, people who are not involved with a drug ring may come under investigation or even be charged because they are in close proximity to criminal activity. If you are being investigated for a drug-related crime, contact a Florida drug defense attorney, and learn how you can avoid wrongful prosecution and possible conviction.
Mandatory minimum sentencing in federal drug trafficking cases
Federal drug crimes and certain crimes against children are subject to the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Federal judges are required to follow these guidelines when a federal trial court convicts a defendant on an offense that calls for mandatory minimum sentencing. In federal drug trafficking cases and conspiracy cases, the mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders is five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $5 million.
Defendants who are convicted in cases involving larger quantities of drugs usually have larger mandatory minimum sentences. If someone became seriously injured in the course of the commission of a federal drug offense, the mandatory minimum sentence is automatically increased to 20 years in federal prison. Possessing a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking offense is a related offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison if convicted. Therefore, a defendant who was caught with a gun while trafficking drugs may automatically face a total mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Under certain circumstances, federal judges may depart from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. A Fort Pierce criminal defense attorney who specializes in federal drug cases can determine whether a case meets the requirements for judges to make an exception.
Defenses to a federal drug trafficking charge
Individuals who are facing a federal drug trafficking charge have possible defenses. Depending on the facts of the case, a Fort Pierce federal drug trafficking lawyer will determine the best legal defense to the charge. The following are common defenses against a formal allegation of drug trafficking.
During sting operations, law enforcements sometimes cross legal boundaries to get the evidence the prosecution needs. If a government agent solicits or induces criminal activity from someone else, the other party may avoid conviction by arguing entrapment. A court may not convict a defendant who engages in a criminal act he or she would not have otherwise participated in if not induced by an undercover agent. Entrapment occurs when a government officer originates a plan to commit a crime. The defendant may argue he or she was influenced by the government agent’s undue persuasion, deceit, or incitement.
Illegal search and seizure
Sometimes law enforcement may obtain evidence without following the proper legal procedure. This occurs when a police officer searches a property without consent or a warrant. Law enforcement agencies also sometimes violate constitutional rights when they take property for evidentiary purposes without following the correct procedure. For example, if a police officer tows an individual car without a valid legal reason, the prosecution may not use evidence recovered from the vehicle if the police violated the driver’s constitutional rights by towing the vehicle.
A Fort Pierce federal drug trafficking defense attorney can review the evidence in your case and challenge the legality of evidence that may have been obtained illegally. Courts are not permitted to consider illegally-obtained evidence as the basis of a criminal conviction.
Lack of intent
In drug trafficking cases, the prosecution must prove the defendant intended to traffick drugs. Therefore, a defendant can’t be convicted for drug trafficking if he or she had no knowledge of the crime. People sometimes become involved in drug trafficking operations without knowledge. A drug trafficking organization may secretly load illegal cargo onto a truck driver’s commercial truck. A friend, family member, or neighbor may ask someone to deliver a package that contains drugs. An acquaintance may offer an opportunity to make extra money by delivering packages. Even the simple act of riding in someone else’s car can result in a drug trafficking charge if law enforcement pulls the vehicle over and finds a large quantity of drugs.
Although you may explain your lack of involvement in a crime, it is always better to have your own legal representation present. Your Fort Pierce federal defense attorney will help you avoid making statements that may draw unnecessary scrutiny. If a federal prosecutor decides to formally charge you with a crime, your attorney will fight to have the charges dropped.
Lack of a substantial step
In conspiracy cases, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant took substantial or over action toward farthing a plan to commit a crime. Defense attorneys work to challenge the prosecution in proving whether the defendant took any action and, if so, whether the action was substantial enough for conviction. When you work with a seasoned Florida federal drug crimes defense lawyer, you can feel confident that your attorney will gather all the necessary evidence to attack the prosecution’s case at its weakest points.
Contacting a Fort Pierce Drug Trafficking Defense Lawyer
When facing a federal drug trafficking charge, you don’t want to leave the outcome in the hands of a public defender. Call Ohle and Ohle to speak to our team. We will give your case the personalized attention it needs.