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 Gwinnett County, Georgia. Why Gwinnett County? Gwinnett County is a highly populated and geographically vast jurisdiction that sees a high number of drug trafficking cases on an annual basis. Therefore, it is important to know what to expect from the prosecutors (District Attorney’s Office) and the Court itself when facing these charges.
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 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).
If you have been arrested in Gwinnett 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:
- Fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court
- Posing a threat or danger to any person
- Committing a felony while on pre-trial release
- 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 Gwinnett 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 Gwinnett 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:
- 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)
- No Possession – Actual or Constructive (this defense asserts the defendant did not knowingly possess the substance in question, directly or indirectly)
- 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)
- Illegally Obtained Evidence (this is the basis of a successful motion to suppress)
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.
 With a minimum purity of 10% or more of cocaine as described in Schedule II