Union County law enforcement officials report the recent seizure of 4 kilos of cocaine and $9,000 in cash, resulting in drug trafficking charges.
While most people understand drug charges in North Carolina can carry serious consequences, an arrest and indictment for “trafficking” may come as a surprise.
Unlike other felony drug charges, trafficking can be a bit more straightforward, if not simplistic.
It also may be perceived as unfair, given traditional concepts of equity in sentencing are often inapplicable.
People charged with drug trafficking, and loved-ones calling on their behalf, regularly fail to fully understand the severity of the offense. They are flabbergasted to learn active prison terms may be mandatory under the NC criminal laws, irrespective of a prior record or lack thereof – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyer
When speaking with clients, relative to drug trafficking charges, we ask two basic questions to start:
- Can the State prove the possession of the controlled substance; and,
- How much of that controlled substance was seized?
In large measure that is because those are the two questions presented to juries in North Carolina.
What is Drug Trafficking in North Carolina?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand there can be drug trafficking charges in State Court and Federal Court. This blog post focuses on violations of the North Carolina criminal laws and does not address federal statutes, federal criminal charges, and/or violations of the United States Code as amended (U.S.C.).
The Pattern Jury Instructions for drug trafficking charges are relatively simple and cover a wide range of controlled substances such as:
The jury instruction, in relevant part, requires:
For you to find the defendant guilty of this offense, the State must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt: The Defendant knowingly possessed XX substance (or a mixture containing that substance) and the amount of that substance
That’s it. The Court and the jury do not take into consideration an intent to sell or deliver.
Does Prior Record Level / Criminal History Influence Trafficking Charges
As it pertains to the specific sentence, no.
The prior record and prior record points, which are often considered as part of sentencing for a traditional felony or misdemeanor charge in North Carolina, do not determine the sentence for drug trafficking charges.
That’s also true regarding other “factors in mitigation” that are common aspects sentencing in North Carolina.
Consistent with N.C.G.S. 15A-1340.16, factors in mitigation ordinarily might include things like:
- Minor participant in the criminal enterprise
- Restitution to the victim or victims of the crime
- Honorable Discharge from prior military service
- Community support system
- Supports family
- Gainful employment, positive employment history
- Good prognosis in treatment
- Mental condition that reduces culpability for the criminal charge(s)
That’s not true or even considered with trafficking charges. **Each case is different. If you have questions about the specifics of your matter, contact experienced legal counsel immediately.
Sentencing for drug trafficking is handled by a statutory framework, as found in N.C.G.S. 90-95.
For trafficking in cocaine, the relevant statutory reference is N.C.G.S. 90-95(h)(3), subsections (a),(b), and (c).
(a) 28 grams but less than 200 grams is sentenced as a Class G felon. Minimum term of 35 months (2.92 years). Maximum term of 51 months (4.25 years) in the North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections or “DAC.” $50,000 fine minimum.
(b) 200 grams but not more than 400 grams is sentences as a Class F felony. Minimum term of 70 months (5.83 years). Maximum term of 93 months (7.75 years) active imprisonment in DAC. Minimum $100,000 fine.
(c) 400 grams or more, punishment as a Class D felony. Minimum term of 175 months (14.6 years). Maximum term of 222 months (18.5 years). Minimum fine of $250,000.
** As reported in the November 10, 2019 WBTV story, 4 kilos of cocaine is 4,000 grams. That is ten (10x) the amount necessary for sentencing as a Class D felony under subsection (c) above.