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International Drugs Crimes and Drug Trafficking

A charge of international drugs crimes or drug trafficking (possession with intent to distribute) is a very serious criminal offence that will usually result in a prosecution as well as a lengthy prison sentence if convicted. The outcome of each case will vary dramatically depending on various factors. Anyone facing a charge of drug trafficking should take immediate expert legal advice. Here we look generally at the offence and possible sentences.

What is drug trafficking?

Organised crime groups use drug trafficking as one of their main sources of revenue, often in the pursuit of other criminal activities such as firearms, slavery and immigration crime. Therefore, the police and prosecution agencies regard the disruption of drug trafficking as having a pivotal role in impacting on other criminal activities in the community.

Deaths resulting from drugs misuse is growing every year and in 2016 accounted for 2,593 deaths. The rise of newer synthetic opioids has contributed to this fact. Opium production is at a record high resulting in higher purity of the drugs on the streets. Drug trafficking also involves dangerous competition between rival gangs as well as corruption throughout the supply chain.

Most illegal drugs are trafficked into the UK from abroad via shipping containers, small boats, light aircraft, cars and other vehicles from the continent, planes as well as via the post. Often “mules” are used to traffic the drugs, which can be very dangerous.

Drug trafficking is a global issue involving the cultivation, production, manufacture, distribution and supply/sale of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The use of illegal drugs has a massive impact on the country as a whole. In 2017/18, there was 122.9 tonnes of cocaine and 5.1 tonnes of heroin seized as a result of the investigations by the National Crime Agency. Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK, with a market worth around £1 billion a year.

Due to the widescale problem, the police and investigating agencies are prepared to undertake lengthy surveillance operations in the hope of disrupting the supply chain.

What is the law in relation to drug trafficking?

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to be charged with possession with intent to supply drugs various factors have to be proved:

  • The person must be in possession of a controlled drug.
  • There must be evidence to show that there is an intention to supply someone else with the controlled substance (and they do not have a legal right to possess it).

Proving intention can be done via admissions or witness evidence. But this is not always available. The prosecution can therefore rely on the surrounding evidence such as drug paraphernalia suggesting the intention to supply. Items such as electronic scales, cling film and a large amount of cash that cannot be accounted for all could be used to indicate the person is supplying drugs. Similarly, the number of drugs seized can indicate that it is not merely for personal use. The purity of the drug could also suggest the intention to supply (the implication being that it is uncut). If communication with known drug dealers can be proved, then again this could be used to imply and intent to supply. Evidence can also be obtained through large amounts of electronic evidence like cell site analysis, covert surveillance and forensic downloads of telephones and computers. Statements made by the person being investigated can also affect the case (for example an admission of supplying drugs to friends, even in cases where the drugs are supplied for free). It is not necessary to prove that the person is making a financial gain by the supply of drugs.

Drug trafficking is a very serious offence that will be investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and HM Revenues and Customs.

What are the possible sentences for drug trafficking?

Drug trafficking is a much more serious offence than simple possession and results in much higher sentences. The court will take into account various factors when determining the level of sentence including how culpable they feel the defendant was in the offence as well as the level of harm caused. The court will also consider whether or not there was financial gain as a result of the supply, the role played by the defendant, the quantity of drugs offered and number of transactions performed, as well as the purity of the drug and whether the defendant has any related previous convictions. Other factors will also be regarded as aggravating such as where the supply takes place near a school.

Controlled (illegal) drugs are given three classifications:

  • Class A, such as cocaine, heroin, morphine and ecstasy. These are the most serious drugs and can result in imprisonment for life.
  • Class B, such as cannabis, codeine, ketamine and amphetamines, resulting in up to 14 years imprisonment.
  • Class C such as anabolic steroids, tranquillisers and khat, resulting in up to 14 years imprisonment.

The likely length of sentence can vary dramatically from a simple fine for the supply of a small amount of a class C drug to a prison sentence of decades or even life for an offence of supplying large quantities of a class A drug.

It should also be noted that those convicted of selling or supplying drugs can have the proceeds of any criminal activity become the subject of confiscation proceedings. This can result in the seizure and confiscation of money, property, houses or possesses that are suspected of being obtained from the proceeds of the illegal supply of drugs. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) allows the Court to make a confiscation order. The purpose of the confiscation proceedings is to determine to what extent a guilty person has financially benefited from their offending. The Court will make an order for the defendant to pay back the amount they have benefit from the crime.

Contact Saunders Law, Serious Crime Department, London

At Saunders Law, we have decades of experience in assisting clients in high-profile and serious criminal cases to obtain justice, including cases of drug trafficking and international drug crimes. We have an in-depth understanding of the law and can build a robust defence using our unique, strategic approach to serious crime, as well as using our expert advocacy skills to represent you in court. Our expert lawyers understand the stress caused by an accusation of drug trafficking because of the serious impact it can have on all aspects of your life. We can support you through the entire process.

Our crime department is widely recognised as a leader in its field and is highly ranked by The Legal 500, Chambers and The Lawyer’s Hot 100. For a free, no obligation, initial discussion of hose we may be able to help, please contact us today on 020 3811 3123 or make an online enquiry.

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