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Understanding drug trafficking and distribution charges

March 30, 2018

The use and sale of drugs is prominent in many communities and can lead to dangerous and sometimes fatal situations. For this reason, those who face criminal charges may endure stiff penalties if convicted.

In such cases, it is important to fully understand what drug trafficking and distribution charges entail so that you can develop the best possible defense for your case.

Distribution charges

Distribution occurs when a person actually exchanges a controlled substance for a form of payment. Tennessee’s drug laws specify that illegal distribution occurs even in the exchange of prescription drugs if the person receiving them doesn’t have a valid prescription.

In order to charge someone with distribution, law enforcement must catch the person in the act. In many cases, they achieve this through surveillance and undercover operations.

Defining trafficking

Trafficking is the transportation of a controlled substance. Whether the distance is far away or within the same city, the charge remains the same. However, the type of controlled substance and the amount that the trafficker has are both important variables in determining what the charges are and how severe the penalties will be.

Furthermore, if drugs are transported across state lines, a person could be charged with a federal crime, which has mandatory minimum penalties. Similarly, trafficking drugs near a school or a children’s playground will likely increase the penalties the accused party will face.

Related but different

A few key things set these two charges apart. Unlike a distribution charge, law enforcement can prove trafficking with probable cause. For example, if officers found drug paraphernalia, bags and other supplies, large amounts of cash, or excessive amounts of the substance, they can reasonably assume the accused meant to traffic (i.e. transport) drugs somewhere else.

Also, a party may be guilty of one charge or both. For example, a trafficker who also distributes the drug is guilty of both charges while someone that just sells the drug is only guilty of distribution. This distinction is critical in the sentencing process.

This is a brief overview of drug trafficking and distribution; there are many more details that may be relevant in certain situations. If you or a loved one face such charges, it may be beneficial to review the law in full and to consult with a knowledgeable attorney.


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