Imagine you have just flown into Hartsfield Jackson
International Airport. You get off the plane and proceed to your luggage
carousel. After you grab your bag, you are approached by several men who
identify themselves as law enforcement. They ask to search your luggage and you
agree. A search reveals a large quantity of drugs and you have no idea how they
got there. You are now facing drug trafficking charges in Clayton County,
Georgia.

Drug trafficking charges are different from other drug
crimes, such as possession, possession with intent to distribute, drug
distribution, and drug manufacturing. The key difference between drug
trafficking and these other drug charges is quantity. Because of the large amount of drugs involved in
trafficking charges, the punishment is significantly higher and may result in
the imposition of a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

This blog serves to explain the drug trafficking laws and
how these cases are handled in Clayton County, Georgia. Why Clayton County?
Clayton County is a hotbed for drug trafficking because the Hartsfield Jackson
International Airport is located within its borders. Therefore, it is important
to know what to expect from the prosecutors (District Attorney’s Office) and
the Court itself when facing these charges.

The Law

O.C.G.A.
§ 16-13-31
, makes it a criminal offense to sell, manufacture, delivers, or
brings into the State, cocaine, illegal drugs, and marijuana is guilty of drug
trafficking. The code section separates the law by drug and by quantity.

Trafficking cocaine
is defined as any person who sells, manufactures, delivers, or brings into this
state or knowingly possesses 28 or more grams[1]
of cocaine. If the quantity of cocaine is between 28 grams and 200 grams, the
person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years
and shall pay a fine of $200,000. If the quantity of cocaine is between 200
grams and 400 grams, the person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum
prison sentence of 15 years and shall pay a $300,000 fine. Lastly, if the
quantity of cocaine is 400 grams or more, the person shall be sentenced to a
mandatory prison sentence of 25 years and shall pay a fine of $1,000,000.

For morphine and
opium (including heroin)
, a person is guilty of trafficking if they sell,
manufacture, deliver, bring into this state, or possess 4 grams or more of the
substance. If the quantity involved is between 4 and 14 grams, the person shall
be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for 5 years and shall
pay a fine of $50,000. For between 14 grams and 28 grams, the sentence is at
least 10 years in prison and a fine of $100,000

Trafficking marijuana
is defined as selling, manufacturing, growing, delivering, or possessing more
than 10 pounds or marijuana. If the amount of marijuana is greater than 10
pounds but less than 2,000 pounds, the law requires a mandatory minimum 5 year
prison sentence plus a $100,000 fine. If the quantity involved is greater than
2,000 pounds but less than 10,000 pounds, there is a 7 year mandatory minimum
prison sentence plus a $250,000 fine. Finally, if the quantity of marijuana is
greater than 10,000 pounds, the person shall be sentenced to a mandatory
minimum prison sentence of at least 15 years as well as a fine of $1,000,000.

For methamphetamine
and/or amphetamine
, any person who sells, delivers, or brings into this
state or who possesses 28 grams or more is guilty of trafficking. If the quantity
is greater than 28 grams but less than 200 grams the person shall be sentenced
to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and pay a fine of $200,000.
For quantities greater than 200 grams but less than 400 grams, it is a 15 year
mandatory minimum prison sentence plus a $300,000 fine. If the quantity is
greater than 400 grams, the mandatory minimum prison sentence is 25 years plus
a $1,000,000 fine.

Although the above sentences are described as “mandatory
minimum prison” sentences, there are a few limited ways in which someone
convicted of trafficking may be sentenced to less prison time than what is
required by the mandatory minimums: (1) If the defendant provides “substantial
assistance” to the government in identifying, arresting, and/or convicting
other people involved in the drug conspiracy, the prosecutor may move the court
to reduce or suspend part or all of the defendant’s sentence; (2) by agreement
of the parties through a “negotiated plea”; or (3) the judge may depart from
these mandatory minimums if certain mitigating factors exist (no prior
felonies, no firearm used, defendant not head of conspiracy, nobody was injured
as a result of criminal conduct, or if the interests of justice would not be
served by imposing a mandatory minimum sentence).

Clayton County

If you have been arrested in Clayton County for drug
trafficking, the first and most important step is getting a bond. Only a
superior court judge may set bail on a trafficking charge. When considering
whether to grant a bond the judge analyzes four factors, whether the defendant
is a significant risk of:

  1. Fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court
  2. Posing a threat or danger to any person
  3. Committing a felony while on pre-trial release
  4. Intimidating witnesses

An experienced attorney may be able to get the prosecutor to
consent to a bond in the case if you have ties to the community and meet the
above factors. In Clayton County, bonds for trafficking range from $65,000 up
to $125,000. The judge may also impose non-monetary restrictions (house arrest,
no contact provisions, GPS ankle monitor, curfew, etc.). There is always the
possibility, however, that a judge will deny setting a bond in the case, even
if the bond was consented to. If the prosecutor will not agree to a bond, then
the defendant will have to go before the judge and offer evidence of
defendant’s ties to the communities (length of residence, family ties,
employment status and history, history of responding to legal process – failure
to appears or probation violations, lack of criminal history). The judge will
normally set a “surety bond” where the defendant is only responsible for
posting 10% of the overall bond amount and a bond company pays the rest
(percentage varies depending on bond company).

If a bond is granted, the next step is fighting the case. Once
all the evidence is gathered through the discovery process and our firm’s own
independent investigation, we then communicate with the Clayton County District
Attorney’s Office in an attempt to discuss a resolution. If these preliminary
discussions are to no avail, we then proceed to file a “motion to suppress”
illegally obtained evidence. If granted, the prosecution would not be able to
proceed with the case. If denied, and the prosecutor is unwilling to dismiss or
reduce the charges then we would be fully prepared to try the case before a
jury. There are several defenses available to someone charged with drug
trafficking:

  1. Insufficient Drug Quantity (a motion to
    inspect evidence could reveal the weight of the substance does not meet the
    quantity as required in order to charge trafficking)
  2. No Possession 
    – Actual or Constructive (this defense asserts the defendant did not
    knowingly possess the substance in question, directly or indirectly)
  3. Equal Access to Drugs (this defense
    relates to other individuals having access to the container or area in which
    the drugs were found, thereby raising doubt that the defendant knowingly
    possessed the drugs)
  4. Illegally Obtained Evidence (this is the
    basis of a successful motion to suppress)

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been arrested for drug
trafficking, contact the law firm of W. Scott Smith at 404.581.0999 today
for a free case evaluation. You’ll find a local Atlanta attorney
ready to aggressively fight on your behalf. You can also find out more detailed
information about Atlanta
laws here
.


[1]
With a minimum purity of 10% or more of cocaine as described in Schedule II