What is drug trafficking? Drug trafficking is a serious criminal charge based on certain quantities of illegal drugs. Trafficking generally includes allegations that an individual possesses, sells, distributes or manufactures a large amount of illegal drugs.

The difference between drug trafficking and other drug crimes – like drug possession, drug distribution or drug manufacturing – is the quantity of drugs involved in the offense. In most states, the case has to involve more than several pounds of marijuana or an ounce or more of “harder” drugs (like cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, etc.) to be charged with drug trafficking.

Because there is a larger amount of drugs involved in a trafficking case, drug trafficking charges can carry serious mandatory minimum prison sentences that usually increase with the quantity of the drugs.

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We have successfully represented clients in serious criminal cases across the United States. Our firm has offices in Atlanta GA and Brunswick GA, and we frequently travel to other courts across the state to represent people in serious criminal cases.

Here is a short video describing drug trafficking laws in Georgia, including some defenses that our firm has used in the past to win these cases at trial or successfully resolve them before they ever get to trial.

Drug Trafficking Charges and Penalties in Georgia

Under Georgia law, it is illegal to possess, manufacture, deliver, distribute or possess with intent to distribute any controlled substance (O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30). A controlled substance is a drug, an immediate precursor or essential compound used to make a drug, or marijuana. The penalty for violating this statute depends on the type, the schedule the drug falls under, and amount of the drug. Furthermore, for larger quantities of certain types of drugs, a person may also be charged with drug trafficking (O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31).

What are Drug Possession and Trafficking Charges?

Under Georgia law, there are five different “schedules” or groups of types of drugs. Some are truly illegal (like heroin) and some are legal with a valid prescription from a doctor. Punishment for possessing or distributing Schedule I drugs is the most severe. The most common drugs in each schedule are as follows:

  1. Schedule I (C.G.A. § 16-13-25) consists of substances that are considered highly addictive, have no accepted medical use, and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision. There are hundreds of substances and chemical compounds listed in Schedule I. A few of the most common are ecstasy, heroin, LSD, morphine, China White, and marijuana.
  2. Schedule II (C.G.A. § 16-13-26) consists of substances that have a high risk of abuse, have limited use with severe restrictions, and have a severe risk of leading to psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II contains drugs classified as narcotics and non-narcotics. Common examples of non-narcotics are amphetamines (Dexedrine, Adderall), methamphetamine, and Ritalin. Examples of Schedule II narcotic drugs are hydromorphone (Dilaudid), methadone (Dolophine), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), and fentanyl (Sublimaze, Duragesic), morphine, opium, codeine, and hydrocodone.
  3. Schedule III (C.G.A. § 16-13-27) consists of substances that have an accepted medical use, a potential for abuse, and abuse of the drug may result in a low physical dependence or high psychological dependence. Common examples are Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, some anabolic steroids, Suboxone, and testosterone.
  4. Schedule IV (C.G.A. § 16-13-28) consists of substances that have a low potential for abuse relative to Schedule III drugs, have accepted medical use, and abuse may result in limited physical or psychological dependence. Common examples are Xanax, Soma, Valium, Ativan, Ambien, Klonopin, and Tramadol.
  5. Schedule V (C.G.A. § 16-13-29) consists of substances that have a low potential for abuse relative to Schedule IV drugs, have accepted medical use, and abuse may result in limited physical or psychological dependence. Some common examples are Lomotil, Lyrica, Motofen, and Parapectolin.

O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30 makes it illegal for a person to possess, purchase, or have under their control any controlled substance. It is also illegal to manufacture, deliver, distribute, sell, or possess with intent to distribute any controlled substance (with limited exceptions). The terms possess, purchase, and deliver all have their ordinary every day meaning. Manufacture means the production, preparation, compounding, conversion, or processing of a controlled substance by extracting components of a substance’s natural origin or by chemical synthesis. The punishment for a controlled substance offense depends on whether the drug was only possessed or if it was manufactured or distributed, type of substance, and the weight of the substance. Furthermore, possession of larger quantities of certain types of drugs (such as cocaine, opium, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, to name a few) allows the presumption that the drugs were being trafficked which comes with much harsher punishment.

A person, if convicted, who purchases or possesses either a Schedule I or narcotic Schedule II drug is guilty of a felony and may be punished by imprisonment for 1-3 years (if less than 1 gram), 1-8 years (if more than 1 gram but less than 4 grams), or for 1-15 years (if more than 4 grams but less than 28 grams).

However, if the possession is 4-28 grams or more of opium, heroin, morphine, or several other substances under Schedules I and II, the punishment is much more severe. In that case, it is considered drug trafficking under Section 16-13-31 and the punishment is as follows: mandatory 5-year minimum imprisonment if the quantity is more than 4 but less than 14 grams and a $50,000.00 fine; mandatory 10 year minimum imprisonment if the quantity is more than 14 but less than 28 grams and a $100,000.00 fine; and mandatory 25 year minimum imprisonment if the quantity is more than 28 grams and a $500,000.00 fine.

A person who purchases or possesses a non-narcotic Schedule II drug can be punished by imprisonment for 1-3 years (if less than 2 grams), 1-8 years (if more than 2 grams but less than 4 grams), or for 1-15 years (if more than 4 grams but less than 28 grams).

A person convicted of manufacturing, delivering, distributing, selling or possessing with intent to distribute a Schedule I or Schedule II drug may be punishment by 5 to 30 years imprisonment if it is the person’s first offense. If convicted of a second or subsequent offense, he may be imprisoned for 10 to 40 years.

A person convicted of possessing a drug in Schedule III, IV, or V may be imprisoned for 1 to 5 years. The punishment for trafficking or distributing drugs in any of these schedules is 1 to 10 years imprisonment.

With respect to marijuana, it is illegal for a person to possess, have under their control, deliver, distribute, dispense, or possess with intent to distribute marijuana. As a general matter, possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor (O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2). Possession of more than 1 ounce is a felony punishable by 1 to 10 years imprisonment. However, under O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31(c), if a person possesses, grows, brings into the state more than 10 pounds of marijuana, it is considered trafficking. If the quantity of marijuana is is more than 10 pounds but less than 2,000 pounds, a person faces a mandatory minimum 5 years imprisonment and a $50,000.00 fine. If caught with 2,000 pounds or more but less than 10,000 pounds of marijuana, a person faces a mandatory minimum of 7 years imprisonment and a $250,000.00 fine. If there is 10,000 pounds or more of marijuana, the person faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

While the above-listed sentences are mandatory minimum sentences, there are three different ways a defendant can be sentenced to less than the mandatory minimum.  First, the District Attorney can file a motion asking the sentencing court to reduce or suspend a sentence if the defendant provides substantial assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any other individuals involved in the drug operation. Second, the sentencing court may use its own discretion to depart from a mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant was not a leader in the drug operation, if the defendant did not possess a weapon, the criminal conduct did not result in a death or serious bodily injury, the defendant has no prior felonies, and the interests of justice will not be served by applying the mandatory minimum sentence.  Third, the sentencing court may depart where the District Attorney and the defendant have agreed to a sentence that is below a mandatory minimum sentence.

Defenses Against Drug Possession and Trafficking Charges

There are several viable defenses available to a person charged with drug possession. A few common defenses include:

  1. Another person had equal access to the drugs. This defense often arises in the automobile context. A person may raise this defense if he can prove that others had equal access to the vehicle where drugs were found or the vehicle had recently been used by others. If the person’s access to or ownership of the vehicle is the only evidence, he can raise the defense of equal access.
  2. A person had a lawful prescription for the drugs. This would only apply to those controlled substances that can lawfully be prescribed by a doctor. If it can be proven that the accused had a valid prescription and the prescription was written for and filled by the person in possession of the prescription, the accused has a viable defense.
  3. The accused was simply present at the time of a drug transaction but did not participate. There is a general rule that merely being present at the scene of a crime is not enough to establish a person actually participated in a crime. Where a person did not assist in obtaining drugs, set up a meeting to exchange drugs, or have knowledge that the purpose of the meeting was a drug transaction, he may be able to defend against drug charges by asserting he was merely present, not involved in the illegal activity.

The information provided above is a very general summary of Georgia drug trafficking and possession law at the time this text was prepared. Because this analysis is subject to change depending upon recent cases and legal developments, you should not rely on this summary as legal advice. As with any important legal question, you should always consult a Georgia criminal defense lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Our lawyers are licensed to practice in all state and federal courts in Georgia.

“Due to the superb work of Page and Jess, the charges were dropped”  

BEST IN TOWN! Look no further then Page Pate and Jess Johnson if you want the best trial lawyers to represent you! Their dedication and complete commitment to their client is beyond reproach. They are complete masters of their knowledge of the law and understanding the court system while providing the top investigative team and forensic technology with a top notch administrative staff. They will walk you through each legal process, demonstrating professionalism while being aggressive advocates for you. In the courtroom there’s no doubt that they are accomplished masterful attorneys who represented my son being accused of a criminal crime he did not commit. This was a difficult case but due to the superb work of Page and Jess the charges were dropped. We will forever be grateful to them for all their hard work, compassion and dedication. If you need the best, then hire the best!

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