How to Beat a Drug Trafficking Charge in Georgia

How is Drug Trafficking Legally Defined?

In Georgia, drug trafficking charges arise from allegations that an individual possesses, sells, distributes, or manufactures a substantial quantity of illegal drugs. The key distinction between drug trafficking and other drug-related offenses, such as drug possession, distribution, or manufacturing, lies in the quantity of drugs involved in the crime. To warrant a drug trafficking charge in states like Georgia, the case generally involves several pounds of marijuana or an ounce or more of substances such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Given the high quantities of drugs involved, drug trafficking charges are typically accompanied by stringent mandatory minimum prison sentences, which escalate based on the amount of drugs. Repeat offenders of drug trafficking are subject to even harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences.

How Is Drug Trafficking Proven?

An individual in Georgia can be charged with drug trafficking if they are believed to possess, sell, distribute, or manufacture a substantial quantity of illicit substances. Drug trafficking distinguishes itself from other drug-related crimes like possession, distribution, or production based on the volume of drugs associated with the crime. To levy a drug trafficking charge in many states, Georgia included, it typically involves a substantial amount of drugs, such as several pounds of marijuana or at least an ounce of substances like cocaine or methamphetamine. Given the sizable volume of drugs implicated, drug trafficking charges are often accompanied by strict mandatory minimum prison sentences that increase with the number of drugs involved. Repeat trafficking offenders face even stricter mandatory minimum jail time.

For a drug trafficking charge to stand in court, the prosecution must substantiate certain aspects of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Two main components define a drug trafficking case. Firstly, the prosecution needs to prove that the accused knowingly participated in the sale, delivery, production, or possession of a specified volume of drugs. In essence, any drug crime can escalate to drug trafficking if it involves a large quantity of drugs, whether it is through sale, possession, or production. The quantity of drugs that triggers a trafficking charge is contingent upon the type of drug in question and the specific thresholds established by state or federal authorities.

What Amount of Drugs Is Considered Drug Trafficking in Georgia?

If you have cocaine or methamphetamine in Georgia, if it is 28 grams or greater, it is a case of drug trafficking. And what you do with the drugs doesn’t matter. To be charged with trafficking, you don’t have to sell drugs or transport drugs. Again, the important thing to remember is to make a trafficking case. The number of drugs is what the state must prove and that you either had or had access to in some capacity. 

Now, How Do You Beat a Drug Trafficking Charge in Georgia?

There are defenses against a drug trafficking charge, and in cases like this, we have used many defenses effectively to represent people. One of the first defenses is that there are not enough drugs, and it’s an obvious defense. Since a case of drug trafficking is not only based on the activity, whether you are selling, manufacturing, importing, or even possessing, you have to show a certain amount. So if the state is testing the drugs and it comes back right around the threshold, say 28.5 grams, the test may be wrong. So we’re going to get in an independent expert, look at that test and see if we’ve got an argument that they haven’t met the quantity threshold or that the measurement was inaccurate or handled improperly. If we can make that argument, we can usually resolve the case for a lower charge. 

Another defense, and this only applies in a possession case, is that drug possession was not real or constructive. However, if the government decides, “We will charge you with trafficking because we understand that in your home or car, you have a kilogram of cocaine.” Now we can show the quantity because it’s a kilo of cocaine, but we’ve got to show that those drugs belonged to you too. And in two ways, they can do that. They may be able to show real possession. If you drive the car and the drugs are sitting next to you, these drugs are actually in your possession. It’s really within reach of your arms, no question. But even if they’re not with you at the time, you can also possess drugs. Let’s say you’re back at the house with a kilo of cocaine and driving somewhere else in the city. You don’t have that cocaine with you now, but you both have the power and the intention to go back and get it. In your house, it’s stored, and you know it’s there. You have constructive possession of these drugs in that case. The state has to show either one or the other. If they can’t show you have real or constructive possession of the drugs and base the trafficking charge off an allegation of possession, they can’t convict you. 

Another defense is the defense of equal access, which is applicable when the state attempts to use a presumption against you. Let’s go back to that example and say the police went home, had a search warrant, searched, and found a kilo of cocaine. You’re not there, but the police say, “Hey, it’s your house; we’ve found a kilo of cocaine there. These drugs must belong to you.” That’s a presumption, and they can argue in court, but if they do, you can argue the defense of equal access. You can say, “Well, that may be my house, but other people have a key.” If that’s true, then you can’t be convicted by the state simply on the assumption that the drugs were yours because they were found in your home. 

In any drug case, another defense is that you want to challenge any illegal search or mobile phone wiretap. For instance, say they were using a stingray phone tracker to intercept your cellphone’s information (11Alive and ACLU reported Metro Atlanta Police and other local police have a lot of cell site simulators). If they’re using this kind of technology to collect the evidence unlawfully, we can get that evidence thrown out of court. It’s uncommon to see a drug case in which there wasn’t a search that was challenged. If they went to the house and searched for it and had a search warrant, the warrant may have been too wide. There may not have been enough likely cause to support the warrant. And what if they go to a house without a warrant? They say they’ve got consent, they’ve got search permission, the whole nine yards. Well, perhaps they didn’t. It’s important that a criminal defense lawyer looks at all these issues because if you can challenge an unlawful search, you can keep that evidence out, and it won’t be used in court against you. And many times, this will result in the charges being completely dismissed. 

You want to challenge a wiretap as well. Now it’s wiretapping all the time in drug cases these days. That’s when a judge permits law enforcement to lawfully record your conversations with others and potentially intercept other information, such as location. In some cases, this is very damaging evidence. For two reasons, it’s possible to have this evidence excluded from the trial. Let’s say, number one, law enforcement has been given a judge to go ahead and issue that wiretap, but they have not had enough likely cause. A judge can say there was insufficient evidence so that the wiretaps can be excluded. They will be unable to use that evidence. 

Another way it’s possible to keep wiretaps out of court during a trial is when the government has probable cause. They got the wiretap and did what they were supposed to do but didn’t seal them properly once they had the recordings. The statute on a wiretap is very specific about what law enforcement should do once they have these records. If they do not follow those procedures, it can sometimes be dismissed.

What Is the Sentence for Drug Trafficking in Georgia?

Penalty for Drug Trafficking in Georgia – Mandatory Minimum Sentence Length Infographic

Infographic of drug trafficking in Georgia mandatory minimums sentencing and drug types
Infographic showing drug trafficking in Georgia mandatory minimums sentencing and drug types

The minimum sentence for a drug trafficking charge in Georgia is 5 years and the maximum is 25. However, the sentencing is different depending on the drug and the amount. Examine the infographic at the top or consider the following, cocaine trafficking is defined as the sale, manufacture, delivery, or knowledgeable possession of 28 grams or more of cocaine. The penalty is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years if the quantity is at least 28 grams but less than 200 grams. The law requires a minimum sentence of 15 years for quantities of at least 200 grams but less than 400 grams. There is a minimum sentence of 25 years with more than 400 grams of cocaine. A person commits the crime of trafficking for morphine or opium (including heroin) when he or she owns 4 grams or more. Selling, delivering, or possessing 4 or more grams requires a minimum sentence of 5 years but less than 14 grams. A sentence of at least 10 years is required for quantities between 14 and less than 28 grams. The law requires a sentence of at least 25 years for 28 grams or more. Marijuana trafficking is defined as the sale, manufacture, grow, supply, or possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana. A sum exceeding 10 pounds but less than 2,000 pounds requires a sentence of at least 5 years. A minimum sentence of 7 years is required for an amount between 2,000 and less than 10,000 pounds. The minimum sentence is 15 years for 10,000 pounds or more. 

Trafficking methamphetamine/amphetamine involves selling, delivering, or possessing 28 grams or more of methamphetamine or amphetamine. Amounts ranging from 28 to less than 200 grams will result in a sentence of at least 10 years. A mandatory minimum of 15 years is required for amounts between 200 and less than 400 grams. Greater amounts trigger a minimum sentence of 25 years. Production of these drugs carries its own penalties, which are almost the same as above. The only difference is that a minimum sentence of 10 years is required to manufacture any amount below 200 grams. 

Although the above sentences are compulsory minimum sentences, there are three different ways in which a defendant can be sentenced to less than the compulsory minimum. First, if the defendant provides substantial assistance in identifying, arresting, or convicting any other individuals involved in the drug operation, the District Attorney may file a motion requesting the sentencing court to reduce or suspend a sentence. Again, the sentencing court may use its discretion to depart from a mandatory sentence if the defendant was not a leader in the drug operation, if the defendant did not have a weapon, if the criminal behavior did not result in death or serious physical injury, if the defendant had no prior offense and if the defendant did not apply the mandatory minimum sentence lastly. 

How do I pick a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Drug Trafficking case?

Making an informed decision in selecting a criminal defense lawyer to create a strong defense for your drug trafficking case is important to help you avoid a costly mistake. A top criminal defense lawyer will have references, reviews, and successful drug trafficking case examples that demonstrate their ability to handle your case.

  • Has to lead a strong team of experienced federal defense lawyers that have collaborated on federal and state drug trafficking charges that have resulted in dismissed and reduced charges.
  • Employing a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of your case, including the analysis of key issues that could allow for a difference in movement or trial success.
  • Effective and active communication to make sure that you understand all the possible consequences of a drug trafficking conviction and communicate possible decisions about your case.
  • Consideration of all defense strategies, resolution paths, and legal options.

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