Drug Trafficking: What Are the Penalties That You Should Know
Drug crimes are one of the most commonly prosecuted offenses in New Mexico. With the opioid epidemic in the back of everyone’s mind, lawmakers face pressure to enact strict laws to punish those convicted of drug trafficking. Additionally, police and prosecutors see it as their job to rid the streets of anyone who sells drugs. The result is that drug trafficking penalties in New Mexico are extraordinarily harsh.
New Mexico Drug Trafficking Laws
Drug trafficking is one of the most commonly misunderstood charges due to the fact that, to many, the term implies transporting large amounts of narcotics across state or national borders. However, in New Mexico, drug trafficking involves the manufacture or sale of certain narcotics, regardless of the amount.
Under state law, there are several ways the government will try to prove drug trafficking charges, including the following:
- The manufacture of any Schedule I, II, III, IV or V controlled substance;
- The distribution or sale of any Schedule I or II controlled substance or an analog;
- The distribution or sale of methamphetamine;
- The possession with intent to deliver any Schedule I or II controlled substance or an analog; and
- The possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine.
Notably, given the way the law is phrased, the government does not need to prove you sold drugs to convict you of drug trafficking; it only needs to prove that you possessed the drugs with the intent to deliver them.
Drug Trafficking Penalties
Drug trafficking crimes carry some of the most draconian penalties in all of criminal law. For someone facing their first arrest for drug trafficking, they are looking at a second-degree felony. Second-degree felonies are punishable by nine years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
If you face a second drug trafficking charge, the crime becomes a felony of the first degree. Felonies of the first degree carry a maximum penalty of up to 18 years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.
These punishments are drastically higher than those associated with lesser drug offenses. For example, assume you were arrested with a moderate amount of heroin. The prosecution may initially charge you with a second-degree felony for drug trafficking. However, if you could prove that you did not possess the heroin with the intent to sell it, you would then face a much less serious fourth-degree felony. Fourth-degree felonies, while still serious, carry significantly less jail time—in this case, a maximum of 18 months. Thus, there is a major benefit to attacking the government’s case that you possessed narcotics with the intent to distribute or sell them.
Defenses to Drug Trafficking Crimes
While New Mexico drug trafficking crimes are extremely serious, there are also many ways to defend against them. The most common defenses in drug trafficking cases are:
- A motion to suppress physical evidence;
- Insufficient evidence of possession; and
- Insufficient evidence of intent to distribute.
An experienced New Mexico criminal charges defense attorney can help you determine which of these may apply in your case.
Motions to Suppress
A motion to suppress physical evidence is a pretrial motion in which you argue that the evidence the government intends to introduce against you is not admissible. The most common basis for a motion to suppress is that the police officers who recovered the drugs violated your rights when they stopped, searched, or arrested you.
The United States and New Mexico constitutions protect everyone from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, this requires police officers to either have a warrant or some other justification for intruding on your freedom. For example, police officers cannot pull you over absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you were involved in criminal activity. Once an officer initiates a traffic stop, they cannot search your car without a valid reason. Often, police officers will ask for your consent. However, you never need to voluntarily allow police to search your car. If a police officer believes they have the legal authority to conduct a search, they don’t need to ask your permission.
Insufficient Evidence of Possession
In some drug trafficking cases, police arrest you even though the drugs were not physically on your person. For example, the narcotics may be in the trunk of a car, inside a residence, or hidden in a stash location. To convict you of drug trafficking, the prosecution must prove that you possessed the drugs. Thus, one common defense is attacking the prosecution’s assumption that the drugs belonged to you. For example, if there were multiple people in a car, the drugs could belong to anyone in the car. Or if police found narcotics in your home, they could belong to anyone else living at the address.
Insufficient Evidence of Intent to Distribute
Many drug trafficking cases do not involve direct evidence that someone sold drugs. More often, the government operates under the assumption that, based on the amount of the drugs recovered, the only logical conclusion is that you were going to sell them. However, this assumption is often misplaced. There are many reasons why you may have more than a few packets of drugs on you at a time. Maybe you were trying to save money by purchasing a larger quantity. Or, knowing the risks of buying drugs, you wanted to purchase a larger quantity, so you didn’t have to buy as often. If the government cannot prove you possessed the drugs with the intent to distribute them, you cannot be convicted of drug trafficking.
Reach Out to a Dedicated New Mexico Drug Trafficking Charges Lawyer Today
If you are facing drug trafficking charges in New Mexico, the dedicated criminal charges defense lawyers at the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices are here to help. We have decades of combined experience handling all types of drug crimes on behalf of our clients. Our attorneys understand the most effective defenses to these crimes and work diligently to defend our clients’ rights at every stage of the process. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call 505-200-2982. You can also reach us through our online contact form.