A federal judge recently sentenced a man who supplied a San Antonio-based pill mill with fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine to nearly 21 years in federal prison without parole.
The defendant was a low-level supplier who provided drugs that were used to lace counterfeit prescription pills. The pills were then distributed to darknet buyers nationwide. The operation has been linked to at least one death.
Despite being a low-level supplier, the defendant was held accountable for the pill mill’s entire output. The result is that he will spend decades behind bars.
Today’s lesson: Federal authorities are serious about cracking down on illicit drug trafficking, regardless of an individual’s level in the supply chain.
Anyone involved in illicit drug trafficking need to be aware of how federal drug crimes work, and how prosecutors are securing convictions in these cases.
Here’s what you need to know…
Federal Possession with Intent to Distribute
Federal charges of possession with the intent to distribute are quite serious. That said, crimes of intent (like this one) are often misunderstood. There are some caveats to the legal definition.
To better understand, we’ll break the charge down into two separate components:
- Possession of the drugs; and
- The intention to distribute them
In order for charges of possession with intent to distribute to stick, prosecutors must satisfy both of these elements.
Possession can be a charge in itself, and covers not only mere physical possession of the substance in question but also when the substance is in your control.
You are usually considered to be “in possession” of narcotics if the substance is found on your person, in your home, or in your vehicle.
Pertaining specifically to pharmaceuticals, in order to claim legal possession, you must know that the drugs are present and be able to provide documentation (usually a prescription or some other official authorization) to that effect.
Additionally, if an illicit prescription is found in your home, vehicle or other property, and you had no idea they were present, you are not considered to be in possession.
However, in many cases, “possession” is applied when you reasonably “should have known” that the narcotics were present. Under this broader standard, prosecutors generally have an easier time proving this element.
Intent to Distribute
Proving intent, on the other hand, is always more difficult. The prosecution must prove what you were planning to do with the narcotics. Because it’s impossible to get inside of your head, intent must be proven by surrounding circumstances.
Typically, the intent to distribute is assumed when you’re found to be in possession of large amounts of narcotics — more than what could be considered for personal use.
Other evidence could include packing materials, large amounts of money and communications from customers which would suggest distribution, or undercover agents posing as customers in sting operations testifying against you.
Note, possession with intent to distribute charges don’t apply unless both elements occur simultaneously. Let’s say you’re accused of planning to sell thousands of illegal prescription pills but haven’t received the shipment yet.
You can’t be charged with possession with intent to distribute. Instead, you’re likely to face related charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute.
Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute
Most large-scale drug trafficking rings are highly organized, and top-ranking members typically aren’t in possession of large quantities of narcotics for a significant amount of time, if it all. Enter drug conspiracy
Under this charge, the defendant must only be in an agreement to possess and distribute drugs.
Specifically, three elements must be proven to convict on counts of conspiracy with intent to distribute:
- Agreement: For conspiracy to occur, one or two people must agree to commit a crime. Prosecutors have the leeway to prove either a direct (or explicit) agreement or an indirect (or implicit) agreement between two co-conspirators.
- Intent: Conspiracy is a crime of specific intent. This means that merely approving another party’s participation in the crime will not lead to a conviction. Instead, you must agree and must intend to commit or aid in the commission of conspiracy.
- Overt Ac: Federal conspiracy statutes require proof of an overt act. In other words, at least one co-conspirator must initiate an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy before the crime is committed.
The intricacies of drug trafficking statutes can be far more complicated that one might imagine.
As the San Antonio case proves, facing federal drug charges alone is not something you should do.
Federal prosecutors have extensive investigative resources to make a sufficient case even in seemingly improbable situations. Now that you know the basics, it’s time to reach out to a Houston drug crime attorney for advice.