Ohio Drug Trafficking Attorneys
Criminal charges for drug trafficking jeopardize your freedom and future. The idea of going to jail or prison is formidable. On top of it all, a drug crimes conviction strains your relationships, family life, and career.
We’ve represented 20,000 federal- and state-level cases, including many for drug trafficking. When you hire a Columbus drug trafficking lawyer from Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm, we use our more than 50 years of combined legal experience to defend you against the charges and keep you out of prison.
The penalties for drug trafficking – defined as selling, offering, or packaging controlled substances – are steep. A conviction could mean 30 days in jail up to 11 years in prison on a state case or up to 40 years in prison on a federal case. Those convicted also face loss of voting rights, loss of professional licenses, and other consequences.
Our criminal defense attorneys build a defense to reduce or avoid these penalties. We represent defendants facing charges of drug trafficking, aggravated trafficking, drug dealing or distributing, drug possession, illegal conveyance, drug manufacturing, and federal drug charges in and around Columbus, Ohio. Our defense lawyers know how to craft a strong defense so you can get your life back to normal as soon as possible.
Put Our Drug Crime Defense Experience to Work for Your Defense
Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm defends clients from all walks of life facing Columbus drug cases, including professionals, business owners, and celebrities. Our clients have a lot on the line, and we help them fight the criminal charges that threaten to derail their life.
Our defense attorneys can do the same for you. We’ve been voted the Top Criminal Lawyer by Columbus CEO Magazine and ranked among the Top 100 Trial Attorneys by The National Trial Lawyers Association—recognitions based on results for clients, including these outcomes:
- Not guilty on felony 1 drug trafficking charge: Our client, a college baseball player, faced a Felony 1 drug trafficking charge and a prior record of felonies. He got no prison time and a not-guilty outcome.
- Felony 1 drug trafficking charge dismissed: We filed a motion for dismissal on our client’s felony 1 drug trafficking charge citing legal issues with the case. Our client avoided an 11-year prison term and went home with no other penalties.
Every case requires a unique legal strategy, and so does yours. We use our experience to tailor a defense for your case and pursue a favorable outcome.
Our defense attorneys may argue the drugs did not belong to you, the drugs were for personal use, the drug was not a controlled substance, or you were an unwitting participant and unaware that the substance was an illegal drug. We may argue entrapment, police misconduct, or unlawful search of your home or vehicle. Our defense may challenge the chain of custody and lab results too.
We not only possess vast legal experience but our attorneys care for clients on a personal level. Our sense of responsibility drives us as we craft a legal strategy to reduce charges, get charges dropped, or achieve a not-guilty verdict to keep you out of jail and lessen the burden of a criminal charge as much as possible.
Ohio Drug Trafficking Information Center
Ohio Drug Trafficking Charges Overview
Tough times lie ahead for individuals convicted of drug trafficking in Ohio. In July 2020, the Ohio Senate passed a sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 3 (SB3), aimed at creating harsher drug trafficking penalties. Sponsors of the bill explain that prosecutors only need to prove that a person either possessed a large amount of drugs or intended to sell or distribute any amount of heroin to set the suspect on the path to a trafficking charge and conviction.
Furthermore, anyone convicted of high-level trafficking would face a mandatory prison sentence under the new law. Bill supporters fought hard through 14 hearings in the Senate’s Justice Committee before the legislation was passed to the Senate floor. The 15-4 vote that passed the bill into law echoes Ohio’s resolve to address the state’s crippling drug problem.
If passed into law, the proposed drug sentencing reform would enable prosecutors to take a softer stance on “low-level, non-violent” offenders—imagining a scenario in which justice is better served by helping potential addicted individuals move on to more productive lives. In the balance of things, however, judicial scrutiny will weigh on drug traffickers and the role they play in Ohio’s messy drug dilemma. As SB3 supporter State Senator Sean O’Brien (D – Bazetta) said in a statement, “…we now have a bill that will help us keep people struggling with addiction out of prison, while punishing the right people – drug traffickers.”
Drug Trafficking in Ohio
Ohioans are determined that locking up drug traffickers is the surest route to protecting the public. In their minds, not only will a concerted, harsher approach to prosecuting and punishing drug traffickers remove drugs from the streets, but it will also deter future drug traffickers. Furthermore, the state sees that taking a vigilant stance on drug trafficking will help to move Ohio down from its consistently top-ranking position in drug overdose deaths.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment, Ohio ranked second in the list of top 10 states impacted by drug overdose deaths in 2017, with 5,111 such deaths (an age-adjusted death rate of 46.3 per 100,000). Adding to this dubious honor, in 2018, Ohio reported $23,582,669 in bulk cash seizures from drug traffickers, putting it in second place after only California for the country’s highest dollar amounts in bulk cash seizures.
In order to begin to move the needle in a more favorable direction, the DEA knows that federal and local law enforcement need to turn their attention to the source of the problem. The agency published its findings about the presence of drugs in Ohio, how they are getting there, and how they are moving around within the state.
The DEA has determined that drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) from Mexico act as the primary supply source for Ohio’s heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Areas of the state showcase strong ties to Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel. Investigations into the trafficking have identified the transportation of narcotics via cars, mail, and tractor-trailers. Law enforcement is also aware of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that supply Ohio DTOs and neighborhood gangs.
At the local level, these groups are known to traffic cocaine, fentanyl, marijuana, and prescription drugs, often trafficking the drugs to West Virginia, Kentucky, and other states. The gangs are understood to be heavily armed and notoriously violent, serving up collateral damage to Ohio communities—and deepening the state’s incentives to stop the trafficking.
The DEA’s report further indicated that Ohio was among the states with the largest amount of state-level DEA cocaine seizures. Law enforcement has identified critical transshipment zones for drugs that come in and out of the Midwest through Ohio, including high-traffic international airports and “entrenched” cocaine markets—which work to keep Ohio near the top of the country’s lists for cocaine trafficking crimes.
Notable Columbus Seizure
Sometimes it takes only one criminal incident to set law enforcement on a speedy track for future investigations, arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. A 2018 traffic stop in Columbus offered just this type of leg-up for police. A K-9 unit detected narcotics in a truck, leading to a search of the vehicle’s cargo area.
This search yielded 57 packages comprising 13 pounds of methamphetamine and 44 kilograms of what was originally thought to be cocaine. Further DEA analysis revealed that the “cocaine” actually consisted of over 33 kilograms of fentanyl and a fentanyl precursor. Law enforcement had already noted an upward tick in cocaine and meth seizures in 2018, so this seizure, albeit significant, did not come as a surprise. Upon the discovery of fentanyl, with its strong potential for overdose deaths, local DEA sat up and took notice, underscoring the need to amp up traffic stops, especially along interstate highways.
Drug Statistics in Ohio Further Compel Vigilant Anti-Trafficking Efforts
Ohio is ready to shed its drug connection, and the state is hyper-aware of the drugs that are presenting the greatest threats, as indicated by the number of reports appearing in the DEA’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS):
- MDMA tablets containing methamphetamine
- Speedballs (heroin and cocaine mixture)
- Super speedballs (heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl mixture)
The Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) was created with the sole purpose of shutting down drug trafficking organizations in the state. The agency uses sophisticated technology to share intelligence across local and federal drug task forces, sheriff’s offices, and other law enforcement personnel. More than two dozen anti-drug task forces in Ohio received an additional $5 million in state funding in February 2020. The funds were allocated along with a critical, overarching objective: to catch high-level drug traffickers.
Connection to Human Trafficking Fuels the Fire to Stamp Out Drug Traffickers
In 2014, the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers reported that three out of five Ohio children trafficked under the age of six were trafficked by parents (one or both) in exchange for drugs, rent, goods, or money, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Columbus courts continue to view drugs being used as a tool used by human traffickers to either entice or bait individuals who can then be captured and trafficked for sex or labor. If the target of human trafficking does not already have a history of drug abuse, the human trafficker will force them to use addictive drugs to which they will develop an addiction, then depend on the trafficker to supply their addictions.
Within the pimp culture, drugs as payment gradually transform into drugs as control of the trafficking victim. At the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Specialized Dockets Annual Conference in 2018, presenters jumped on this intersection of human trafficking and drug trafficking. Presentations at the event—attended by hundreds of professionals working in Ohio’s judicial system—underscored the importance of coming down hard on drug traffickers as a “creative approach” to reducing the state’s human trafficking problem.
A Statewide Commitment to Convicting and Punishing Traffickers
An individual who has been arrested for or questioned about drug trafficking in Columbus needs to keep one thing top of mind: Never before have Columbus, Franklin County, State of Ohio, and federal drug enforcement officials been so focused on Ohio drug traffickers as they are today. Law enforcement is committed to resolving the state’s drug problem by nipping it in the bud—that means investigating, arresting, convicting, and punishing drug traffickers.
Local police and prosecutors have the motive, and they have the resources. If you find yourself in the crosshairs of a drug trafficking investigation and facing years in prison, a Columbus drug trafficking lawyer from the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm can explain your rights, review your legal options, provide legal advice, represent you in drug court, and build a defense to reduce or avoid prison and other penalties. Call us today at (614) 444-1900.
Definition of Drug Trafficking Crimes
The more you know, the better prepared you will be as a defendant against drug trafficking charges. Here are some of the definitions associated with drug trafficking offenses, which are described in Chapter 3719.01 of the Ohio Revised Code.
- Administer: Directly applying a drug to a human or animal via inhalation, injection, ingestion, or other methods.
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Department of Justice agency tasked with administering federal law as it relates to drug trafficking and distribution.
- Controlled substance: Any of the drugs, substances, compounds, preparations, or mixtures classified as a schedule I, II, III, IV, or V substance.
- Controlled substance analog: Substances that are chemically similar to schedule I or II controlled substances and affect the central nervous system at least as much as a schedule I or II controlled substance and/or is intended to have or represented as having such an effect.
- Dangerous drug: A drug that can only be dispensed with a prescription or one that is labeled with the words “Caution: Federal law prohibits dispensing without prescription” or “Caution: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.” Also, a drug that contains a schedule V controlled substance (but is exempt from Chapter 3719 of the Revised Code); a drug that is meant to be injected; a drug that is a biological product, according to the definition in section 3715.01 of the Revised Code.
- Dispense: To give away, sell, deliver, pass on, get rid of, or exchange.
- Distribute: To deal, deliver, transport, ship, or transfer a drug—not to include administering or dispensing of a controlled substance.
- Drug: Any of the substances defined in the U.S pharmacopeia and national formulary intended to cure, prevent, treat, diagnose, or mitigate a disease. A substance that when administered impacts the manner in which the human (or animal) body functions or is structured.
- Federal drug abuse control laws: the “Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970,” 84 Stat. 1242, 21 U.S.C. 801, as amended.
- Manufacturer: Individual who creates or produces controlled substances.
- Marihuana: All parts of a plant (or seeds) belonging to the cannabis genus, except for stalks and those sections that do not contain resin. Excludes hemp.
- Narcotic drugs: Drugs included under federal drug abuse control laws, including opium, ketobemidone, amidone, coca leaves, isoamidone, isonipecaine, and substances that are chemically similar to these drugs.
- Trafficking: Selling or proposing to sell a controlled substance or the preparation of a controlled substance for transport, shipping, delivery, or distribution, with the full knowledge that the substance is intended to be sold or resold to another party.
- Sale: Delivery, barter, gift, exchange, transfer, or offer for any such action, along with the transaction as executed by a person (principal, agent, proprietor, servant, or employee).
- “Schedule I,” “Schedule II,” “Schedule III,” “Schedule IV,” and “Schedule V”: Controlled substances established under section 41 of the Ohio Revised Code, as amended in section 43 or 3719.44 of the Revised Code, or as specified by emergency rule under section 3719.45 of the Revised Code.
Ohio Controlled Substance Schedules
The State of Ohio classifies controlled substances according to five schedules according to:
- Their risk for abuse
- From a historical context, their severity of abuse
- Addiction potential
- Public health danger
- Pharmacological effects
- The body of scientific knowledge about the drug
- Whether the drug may be used to manufacture other illegal substances
The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy is in charge of deciding schedule-related issues as they pertain to federal laws controlling drug abuse.
Ohio’s Controlled Substance Schedule
Schedule I These chemicals, drugs, or substances are linked with no accepted medical use, and they carry a high potential for abuse. Examples include the following: peyote; marijuana (cannabis); heroin; ecstasy; LSD; methaqualone.
Schedule II These substances are considered dangerous. They have medical uses, but they exhibit a strong potential for abuse, and their use may potentially cause severe dependence, either psychological or physical. Examples include the following: methamphetamine, Vicodin, methadone, cocaine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine.
Schedule III These drugs, chemicals, or substances have medical uses and carry a low to moderate potential for dependence, whether physical or psychological. Their potential for abuse is lower than both Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but greater than Schedule IV drugs. Examples include the following: ketamine, testosterone, Tylenol with codeine, and anabolic steroids.
Schedule IV These drugs have medical uses and a low risk for dependence and low potential for abuse. Examples include the following: Tramadol, Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Darvon, Soma, and Ativan.
Schedule V The potential for abuse for these drugs is lower than Schedule IV drugs and feature preparations with limited quantities of specific narcotics. These drugs have medical uses and are typically used for analgesic, antitussive, and antidiarrheal purposes. Examples include the following: Lyrica, Robitussin AC, Lomotil, and Parapectolin.
Common Drug Trafficking Crimes in Ohio
Ohio Revised Code § 2925.01 defines the key concepts and terms associated with trafficking and aggravated trafficking in drugs. According to the Code, it is unlawful to sell or offer to sell a controlled substance or controlled substance analog. If an individual knows or has reason to suspect that a controlled substance or controlled substance analog is intended to be sold, it is also unlawful to:
- Prepare a controlled substance or controlled substance analog for shipment
- Ship, transport, or deliver a controlled substance or controlled substance analog
- Prepare a controlled substance or controlled substance analog for distribution
- Distribute a controlled substance or controlled substance analog
A person who violates any of the above is guilty of either trafficking or aggravated trafficking in drugs, depending on certain criteria, as specified in the Code.
Aggravated Trafficking in Drugs in Ohio
Aggravated trafficking offenses in Ohio involve drugs that are included in Schedule I or Schedule II. Exceptions include cocaine; marihuana; L.S.D., fentanyl (and fentanyl compounds); hashish; and any controlled substance analog. The charges for these offenses range to some degree, depending on various factors. Generally, aggravated trafficking in Ohio drugs offenses are charged as a felony of the fourth degree. However, if the trafficking occurred around a school or juvenile, the offense charge elevates to a felony of the third degree.
If the drug amount equals or exceeds the “bulk amount” but constitutes less than five times the bulk amount, the offense is charged as a felony of the third degree. In this case, if you were previously convicted of a felony drug abuse offense or you pleaded guilty to such an offense, you will be given a mandatory prison sentence in line with prison terms assigned for a felony of the third degree. For this same level of offense, if the aggravated trafficking took place around a school or juvenile, you will face a charge of felony of the second degree, and you will receive a mandatory prison sentence associated with this type of charge.
If aggravated trafficking involves amounts of a drug that equal or exceed five times the bulk amount but are less than 50 times that amount, the offense is charged as a felony of the second degree, with a mandatory prison term fitting this charge. If the offense took place around a school or juvenile, the charge moves up to felony of the first degree, with a mandatory prison term corresponding to a first-degree felony.
When trafficked amounts equal or exceed 50 times the bulk amount but are less than 100 times the bulk amount, the aggravated trafficking in drugs offense becomes a felony of the first degree, and the Court will impose a mandatory prison term that corresponds with a first-degree felony.
If the offense involves a drug amount that equals or exceeds 100 times the bulk amount, not only is the offense charged as a felony of the first degree, but you are not considered a major drug offender. This corresponds with a mandatory, maximum first-degree felony prison term under Ohio law.
Trafficking offenses in Ohio involve drugs that fall under Schedule II, IV, or V. The charges for these offenses range to some degree, depending on various factors. Generally, trafficking in drugs is charged as a felony of the fifth degree. However, if the trafficking occurred around a school or juvenile, the offense charge elevates to a felony of the fourth degree.
How the amount of seized drugs rates in comparison to the “bulk amount” also factors into the charges associated with a trafficking offense. For amounts that equal or exceed the bulk amount but are less than five times the bulk amount, the offense is a felony of the fourth degree. However, if the trafficking of this amount happened around a school or juvenile, the charge is elevated to a felony of the third degree, and a prison term is presumed.
When trafficking involves amounts of a drug that equal or exceed five times the bulk amount but are less than 50 times that amount, the offense is charged as a felony of the third degree, with a presumed prison term. In the event that the offense took place around a school or juvenile, the charge moves up to felony of the second degree, with presumption for a prison sentence.
In trafficking situations involving drug amounts that equal or exceed 50 times the bulk amount, the offense is considered a felony of the second degree, with a mandatory prison term equivalent to a second-degree felony prison term. When the offense occurs around a school or juvenile, the charge advances to a felony of the first degree, with a mandatory first-degree felony prison sentence under Ohio law.
Federal Trafficking Offenses in Ohio
If the alleged drug trafficking occurs across state lines, it becomes a federal offense.
Defenses to Drug Trafficking in Ohio
A Columbus drug trafficking lawyer from the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm will study your case to determine which of several defenses may best position you to get charges dismissed or reduced or to minimize the disruption to your life. We will talk to witnesses, review the police report, analyze the steps that law enforcement took in your investigation, and assess evidence from a range of other sources to mount a defense on your behalf. Vigilant protection of your rights will be intrinsic to the entire process of building your case. Depending on the circumstances of your case, we may build your defense based on any of several legal principles.
Unlawful Search and Seizure
The United States Constitution guarantees your right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. The “reasonableness” of a search and seizure is somewhat of a subjective determination, calculated by weighing the government’s responsibility to public safety against a person’s right to privacy. A search warrant can be issued only when supported by probable cause—with a warrant exactly describing the area to be searched, as well as what can be seized—from things to people. If a court determines that a search and seizure were conducted on unreasonable terms, they will deem the uncovered evidence inadmissible. Without the drugs that the offender is accused of trafficking, the prosecutor will not be able to prove a drug trafficking offense, and there is a strong possibility that the Court will dismiss the charge.
An individual’s home enjoys hearty protection under the Fourth Amendment. The only way that law enforcement can “reasonably” search your residence is if:
- You give them consent to do so.
- They have probable cause.
- The search happens during the course of a lawful arrest.
- Discovered evidence was in “plain view.”
The “plain view” premise means just what it says. Law enforcement cannot hunt for evidence at the bottom of a trash can, packed in a suitcase, stuffed in a mattress, or anywhere else that is not out in the open and clearly visible. Your right to privacy is further extended in that police are not permitted to trespass to gain a better view of incriminating evidence they can use against you. This, therefore, excludes the use of wiretapping and video surveillance of your home unless police have a warrant from a judge permitting them to establish these systems. Any search of a home, outside of the above conditions, counts as “presumptively unreasonable.” The search is declared unlawful, and any fruits of the search cannot be used against you.
Without probable cause, law enforcement officers may not search your vehicle. In the absence of probable cause, for example, during a routine traffic stop, only evidence that is in plain view is subject to lawful seizure by the police. This means if you are stopped for running a red light and police spot an open duffle bag of cocaine sitting on your passenger seat, the drugs are in plain view, and they can be seized. The police now also have probable cause to search the rest of your vehicle for additional evidence.
However, if in the case of a standard traffic stop, the law enforcement officer demands to search your car—with no probable cause for the search—you do not (and should not) consent to the search. Without a warrant, your consent, or probable cause, your trunk cannot be lawfully searched. If an officer violates this right, any evidence seized has been unlawfully obtained and cannot be used against you.
Conducting Traffic Stops
Specialized law enforcement task forces and DEA monitor roads and highways they suspect that traffickers are using to transport drugs. These units may be exempt from the requirement that they have reasonable suspicion to stop your car in traffic. Likewise, if police have reason to believe that a traffic violation occurred or that a crime is in progress, they have the right to conduct a traffic stop.
During a legal traffic stop, drug canines may be used to sniff around the outside of your vehicle. Police may also pat you down during a lawful traffic stop. Police may not, however, conduct random searches by a narcotics detection dog. Furthermore, a government agency is not allowed to use sobriety checkpoints for the sole purpose of finding illegal drugs.
By claiming an entrapment defense, you are asserting that police officers induced you to engage in drug trafficking, a crime you otherwise would not have committed. If your lawyer can prove a case of entrapment, you can be acquitted of the drug trafficking charges against you.
Entrapment qualifies as an affirmative defense. As such, your drug trafficking lawyer will not try to convince the Court that you were not involved in drug trafficking. Rather, your attorney will build a case that demonstrates how law enforcement personnel or the representative of some other governmental body acted to motivate you to commit this offense. In some cases, for example, police coerce an individual to traffic drugs, or a confidential informant (CI) might pressure the alleged drug trafficker to commit a crime that contradicts their nature.
Drug trafficking defense attorneys who effectively implement an entrapment defense exhibit a clear understanding of the fine line that separates lawful actions a police officer can take during the course of an investigation and those that cross the line into the realm of entrapment. Your lawyer will need to know how to investigate your case to prove entrapment, as the burden of proof for this defense will fall on you as the defendant.
The Court will test your case of entrapment against two standards, one subjective and the other objective. In a subjective test, your lawyer must do a good job of convincing the Court that you were not predisposed to trafficking in drugs. In the objective test, your legal counsel must prove that the entrapment tactics, in and of themselves, were enough to motivate an otherwise law-abiding person to traffic in drugs.
The Drugs Did Not Belong to You/Unwitting Participant
Prosecutors must be able to prove that you had knowledge of the drugs, as well as possession, to succeed in their case against you. It is not uncommon for DTOs to trick travelers into carrying drugs for them, especially across international lines.
Another example of this defense coming into play is when the alleged offender is traveling in another person’s car. A search of the vehicle reveals a suitcase stuffed with illegal drugs. The burden of proof for this defense lies with the prosecutor, who must prove that you knew about the drugs.
In some cases, a “Mistake of Fact” defense can be crafted. Given the right circumstances, your lawyer might be able to convince a judge that you were not aware that the substances you were carrying were illegal drugs. Perhaps you were asked to carry a large box of Sweet ‘N Low, which ends up being a whole lot of cocaine.
The Drugs Were For Your Personal Consumption
Depending on the quantity seized, it may be possible to convince a court that although you were in possession of said drugs, you did not intend to sell or distribute them. If Ohio’s SB3 passes into law, this defense may drop from the defense playbook, as the new law will not require evidence of intent to distribute. Rather, the sheer amount of the drugs seized in your investigation will determine whether you can be charged with trafficking drugs rather than simply possession of a controlled substance.
Investigating Police Misconduct
When you hire a Columbus drug trafficking lawyer from the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm, they will investigate every aspect of police conduct throughout your investigation, arrest, and questioning. We will find the answers to important questions that could make the difference in whether incriminating evidence is admitted or thrown out and whether your case proceeds to trial or is dismissed.
Some of the telltale signs of police misconduct lie in the answers to questions like:
- Did law enforcement officers have a valid search warrant when they searched your property?
- Did police have a valid reason to conduct a traffic stop?
- Was evidence planted against you?
- Were you read your Miranda rights?
- Did police permit you to call your attorney before you answered their questions?
- Were you coerced or harassed into making a false confession?
- Did police cause you physical or emotional harm?
If we discover that police violated standard procedure during their search, seizure, or arrest, we will use this information to power your defense.
Becoming a Confidential Informant (CI)
In some cases, you may be able to reduce charges and your sentence by cooperating with law enforcement. If you become a confidential informant and provide information about illegal activity to law enforcement, the prosecution may agree to a lesser charge or reduce the penalties you face.
Ohio Penalties for Drug Trafficking Offenses
State drug laws pattern themselves after federal laws, which charge for various offenses depending on the amount and type of drugs involved, as well as the geographic area in which the offense took place. Both state and federal laws establish a range of penalties for drug charges that may include fines, jail time, imprisonment, probation, and/or community service.
Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties
Federal statute, specifically the Controlled Substances Act (21 USC § 13), describes federal drug trafficking offenses and their respective penalties. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website offers a thorough presentation of the penalties for various federal drug trafficking offenses. Generally, they distinguish themselves from state charges in terms of the quantity of controlled substance being trafficked and, of course, the penalties. For example, for a federal drug trafficking charge, you would face 10 years to life in prison for:
- Heroin: 1 kilogram
- Cocaine: 5 kilograms
- Marijuana: 1,000 kilograms
You would face a sentence of five to 40 years for:
- Heroin: 100 grams
- Cocaine: 500 grams
And, at the low end, for trafficking 50 kilograms of marijuana, you would face a maximum sentence of five years. If an individual dies as the result of your offense, or if it causes serious bodily injury, your possible prison sentence term increases as a penalty enhancement. Likewise, a prison term can be expected in cases where a firearm comes into play during drug trafficking and for individuals who are believed to be the leader of a DTO. One side note to consider: a firearm sentence does not run concurrent with a drug trafficking sentence. A person convicted of both offenses would serve their trafficking-related sentence first, followed by their firearm-related sentence.
State Drug Charges
The degree of the charge for a given trafficking offense matters a great deal. The charge itself determines the range of sentences and/or fines that a judge can impose. It is also important to realize that prosecutors use charges as a strategic tool. They may inflate the charge for a given offense so they have room during a plea agreement to negotiate with the offender for a lesser charge. On the flip side, higher charges also mean the prosecutor shoulders a greater burden of proof when it comes to establishing the criteria that merit such charges.
Charges for Trafficking of Specific Drugs in Ohio
This table outlines the charges associated with specific drug trafficking offenses, based on the amount of drugs involved:
|Marijuana||Gift ≤ 20 g||Minor misdemeanor to third-degree misdemeanor|
|< 200 g||Fifth-degree felony to fourth-degree felony|
|≥ 200 g and < 1 kg||Fourth-degree felony to third-degree felony|
|≥ 1 kg and < 20 kg||Third-degree felony to second-degree felony|
|≥ 20 kg||Second-degree felony to first-degree felony|
|Powder or crack cocaine||< 5g||Fifth-degree felony to fourth-degree felony|
|≥ 5 g and < 10 g||Fourth-degree felony to third-degree felony|
|≥ 10 g and < 20 g||Third-degree felony to second-degree felony|
|≥ 20 g and < 27 g||Second-degree felony to first-degree felony|
|≥ 27 g||First-degree felony|
|Heroin||< 1 g; < 10 UD||Fifth-degree felony to fourth-degree felony|
|≥ 1 g and < 5 g; ≥ 10 UD and < 50 UD||Fourth-degree felony to third-degree felony|
|≥ 5 g and < 10 g; ≥ 50 UD and < 100 UD||Third-degree felony to second-degree felony|
|≥ 10 g and < 50 g; ≥ 100 UD and < 500 UD||Second-degree felony to first-degree felony|
|≥ 50 g; ≥ 500 UD||First-degree felony|
|Fentanyl-Related Compound||< 1 g; < 10 UD||Fifth-degree felony to fourth-degree felony|
|≥ 1 g and < 5 g; ≥ 10 UD and < 50 UD||Fourth-degree felony to third-degree felony|
|≥ 5 g and < 10 g; ≥ 50 UD and < 100 UD||Third-degree felony to second-degree felony|
|≥ 10 g and < 20 g; ≥ 100 UD and < 200 UD||Second-degree felony to first-degree felony|
|≥ 20 g; ≥ 200 UD||First-degree felony|
Major Drug Offenders (MDO) in Ohio
Major drug offenders face a felony of the first degree and a mandatory prison term of 11 years. To qualify as an MDO in Ohio, you must be in possession of the following quantity of a controlled substance (Ohio Revised Code § 2929.01(W)):
|Substance||Amount To Qualify as an MDO in Ohio|
|Heroin||1,000 unit doses or 100 g|
|LSD||5,000 unit doses or 500 g|
|Controlled substance analog||50 g|
|Fentanyl-related compound||1,000 unit doses or 100 g|
|Other schedule I or II controlled substances other than marihuana||At least 100 times the amount necessary to constitute a third-degree felony|
Penalties Associated With Various Charges
Although a judge will refer to the guidelines for sentencing drug trafficking offenses as outlined in Ohio’s criminal statutes, it is within the judge’s discretion to impose whatever penalties and punishments they see fit, provided they fall within the statute’s described range of penalties. Any deviation from Ohio’s statutes will likely result in an appeal court reversing the judge’s decision. A judge may also penalize the offender with a sentence of community service and/or probation if they see fit. The following table depicts the penalties you might face if convicted of trafficking or aggravated trafficking in drugs in Ohio:
|Criminal Charge||Penalty and/or Punishment|
|Minor misdemeanor||Fines, $150 maximum|
|Misdemeanor of the Fourth Degree||Jail time, 30 days, maximum; and/or fines of $250, maximum|
|Misdemeanor of the Third Degree||Jail, 60 days, maximum; fines, $500, maximum|
|Misdemeanor of the Second Degree||Jail sentence of 90 days, maximum; and/or fine of $750, maximum|
|Misdemeanor of the First Degree||180 days in jail, maximum; and/or fine of $1,000, maximum|
|Felony of the Fifth Degree||Prison term of 6-12 months; and/or fine of $2,500, maximum|
|Felony of the Fourth Degree||Prison term of 6-18 months; and/or fine of $5,000, maximum|
|Felony of the Third Degree||Prison term of 1-5 years; and/or fines of $10,000, maximum|
|Felony of the Second Degree||Prison term of 2-8 years; and/or fine of $15,000, maximum|
|Felony of the First Degree||Prison term of 3-11 years; and/or fine of $20,000, maximum|
If your drug trafficking charge ends in a conviction, a Columbus drug trafficking lawyer from the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm will ensure that a judge does not overstep Ohio statutes when imposing sentencing. Call us today at (614) 444-1900.
Collateral Consequences of Drug Trafficking Conviction in Ohio
A drug trafficking conviction could haunt you well beyond any fine you have to pay or sentence you have to serve. A conviction carries with it a laundry list of collateral consequences imposed via Ohio statutes, court rules, constitutional provisions, and various administrative regulations. Regardless of the jurisdiction of a conviction, these collateral consequences will affect you for the rest of your life by restricting things like:
- Government benefits
- Professional licenses
- Business licenses
- Driver’s license
- Family rights, including custody
- Political and civic participation
- Firearm license
- Other recreational licenses
- Voting Rights
- Government grants and loans
So many collateral consequences lie hidden from view—you may not be aware of their effect until they confront you head-on in life when you least suspect it. You can find a complete list of collateral consequences at the Civil Impacts of Criminal Convictions Under Ohio Law (CIVICC) website. For the range of charges (felony of the fourth degree to felony of the first degree) in an aggravated drug trafficking offense, CIVICC lists 683 collateral civil impacts of a conviction.
Getting Around the Collateral Consequences
A drug trafficking attorney can apply their knowledge of the legal system to try to relieve their clients from some of the collateral consequences of a drug trafficking conviction. Your legal counsel should be able to prepare you for some of the sanctions that may accompany a conviction in your case. They should be able to strategize forms of recourse for restoring rights you may lose—some may automatically restore, while others will require judicial action. Although the Columbus drug trafficking lawyers at the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm fight to prevent your conviction, we are also prepared for another scenario—one in which you will need to fight to preserve some of the rights you risk losing via collateral consequences. Call us to begin planning your defense today: (614) 444-1900.
Columbus Drug Trafficking Investigations
Police do not randomly stumble upon a drug trafficking offense in progress. To the contrary, investigations that lead to an arrest can go on for months. They involve state-of-the-art technology and coordinated efforts across multi-disciplinary investigation teams. Law enforcement teams will obtain and execute warrants to set up video surveillance of your home and/or work, as well as wiretaps of your phones. They use confidential informants to tip off police and task force operatives about key players, shipments, and transactions, often using recorded money for easy tracking. With all the evidence obtained from these tactics, search warrants can be obtained and evidence seized, leading to your eventual arrest.
Surveillance involves any form of covert monitoring of places, people, and vehicles. Techniques vary from old-school, physical stakeouts to high-tech, electronic systems. Our law firm will review the investigative procedures that police used in your case to check for any violations of your rights, including those protected by the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.
Otherwise known as a “stakeout,” fixed surveillance teams position themselves at a distance from their subjects. These units can consist of one- or two-person set-ups. The latter enables greater flexibility in moving around and ensures that there’s always a set of eyes on the scene. For larger operations, a three-person surveillance method is able to significantly cut the chance of being detected. Sometimes, three-person teams can stay on the move with the investigation target, with one officer walking behind, another further behind, and a third walking on the other side of the street.
Stationary Technical Surveillance
With this method, investigators equip a parked, unmanned vehicle with recording equipment and a hidden camera. The devices record video and images whenever needed, with the advantage of round-the-clock surveillance without the risk of detection.
Investigators can obtain a court order permitting them to implement wiretapping of phones, faxes, emails, and internet activity. Law enforcement can get a jump on the investigation without a court order by using a pen register to identify calls made without listening to the actual phone calls. Stingray tracking devices enable police to determine the location of a cell phone and identify people who may be in the vicinity of the surveillance target. Electronic monitoring warrants also facilitate the use of license plate readers, drones, and computer forensics. A court may also subpoena any data the suspect may have stored in the cloud.
In some cases, an officer can infiltrate a gang or drug trafficking operation, actively participating in the group and passing information back to investigators.
Controlled Telephone Calls
In an effort to gather evidence, police may enlist the help of someone you trust to call you and engage in conversation, with the hope that you will say something that helps their investigation. Police may even give your “friend” a script they can read to ensure the conversation moves in the direction that they need it to go. The phone call can be used as evidence against you at trial.
If law enforcement has reason to believe that an individual is predisposed to selling an illegal controlled substance, they can use a controlled buy to investigate the suspect. A common tactic used by police investigating potential traffickers, the controlled buy puts a police officer in the role of a drug “buyer.” Before being sent into the purchase transaction, the “buyer” is checked to confirm they do not have any drugs on their person. They are then given pre-recorded money and taken to a location to buy the controlled substance. A surveillance team monitors the transaction. After the purchase, the “buyer” is again inspected for drugs. Any controlled substance found in their possession is assumed to be the product purchased and is confirmed via a field test. Because the target was identified as being predisposed to sell drugs, this technique rises above the criteria for entrapment.
Confidential Informants (CIs)
The use of CIs to investigate drug trafficking crimes is sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, CIs are counted on as valuable, information-gathering tools for penetrating gangs and drug trafficking cartels. If an informant tips off law enforcement that you are involved in drug trafficking, police can use this tip to obtain a search warrant. Whatever they find in the course of searching your car, home, or other property can result in your arrest, and the evidence can be used against you at trial. On a positive note, even the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) exercises great precautions when tapping the potential contributions of a CI. Not only can the informant’s credibility and motivation be called into question at trial, but the issue of violating your right to privacy may be enough to have this evidence tossed at trial.
The federal Byrne Memorial has been funding the creation and maintenance of Ohio drug task forces since 1988. The state has since grown the reach and effectiveness of these task forces by encouraging their cooperation with regional groups and programs. Today, the Ohio Task Force Commanders Association (OTFCA) heads up 27 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the state, each of which works in cooperation with sheriff’s offices and local police departments to facilitate drug trafficking investigations. Other task forces, such as METRICH, function independently. OTFCA has a partnership with the State of Ohio—with both entities committed to sharing resources and information in an effort to cut the flow of drugs throughout the state. Within Columbus, the Franklin County HIDTA Task Force contributes to this collaborative effort. The task forces have been so effective in gathering intelligence about Ohio’s drug trafficking that the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance granted a $5,712,220 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. The grant money has gone toward further equipping task forces to dismantle the state’s drug trafficking operations.
Evidence in Drug Trafficking Cases
Ohio prosecutors draw on two types of evidence to prove an individual is guilty of drug trafficking. Similar to prosecuting a possession case, prosecutors in a trafficking case must present evidence that the accused knowingly possessed an illegal drug. Thus, the only way you can be guilty of trafficking is if you have the illegal control substance, you know you have it, and you know what the substance is. Trafficking cannot happen in the absence of these elements. Several types of evidence can support knowing possession, including:
- Police body cameras
- Computer data
- Text messages
- Witness testimony
- Audio recordings
- Crime lab results
- Police officer testimony
Trafficking Traditionally Requires Proof of Intent to Sell
Traditionally, proving trafficking in Ohio has deviated from possession in that prosecutors further have to show that the accused was involved in the transport, sale, or importation of the illegal controlled substances—or that the individual intended to deliver or sell the drugs. It is this element that elevates the offense from possession to trafficking—and makes it a felony charge. It has also held true in Ohio courtrooms that prosecutors must provide further evidence that supports their argument that the drugs were intended for sale rather than for personal use. Their searches and seizures would have to yield circumstantial evidence such as scales or plastic baggies, recorded buy money, postal mail, financial logbooks, and large quantities of cash, for example.
SB3 Drug Reform Bill Could Change Evidence Requirements for Trafficking
We say these types of evidence have “traditionally” been required to prove cases of drug trafficking in Ohio. However, if SB3 passes into law, the second requirement of evidence that proves intent to sell or distribute will go out the window. In the state’s hard push to end trafficking, it could embrace this new drug reform law—and that means prosecutors would use only the amount of the seized drugs to elevate an offense from possession to trafficking.
Suppression of Evidence in Ohio Drug Cases
The first strategy a drug trafficking attorney will attempt in their client’s defense is suppression of evidence. Without certain types of evidence, a drug trafficking charge can be dismissed—or at the very least, the prosecutor will be forced to drop the case to a lesser charge. We have addressed this strategy, to some extent, in the earlier section on Defenses to Drug Trafficking in Ohio. A defense attorney can move to suppress any evidence obtained through illegal means. Generally, a lawyer looks to constitutional violations for grounds to suppress.
Fourth Amendment Rights
Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. In the absence of a valid search warrant, there are only certain circumstances wherein a search and seizure are legal. If you consented to the search, it is legal. However, if you gave consent without understanding what it meant, the search may be deemed illegal—and the evidence may be thrown out. If police see incriminating evidence in plain sight, they may seize the evidence and use it against you. However, police may not start unzipping luggage and tossing couch cushions in an attempt to uncover evidence. If they do, anything they find that was not in plain sight will not be admissible at trial. If police are conducting a search incident to arrest, the search is legal. However, police are permitted to only search areas where they have good reason to believe that evidence may be present. If a search outside these parameters yields evidence, it may be considered illegal and therefore excluded.
If evidence is found in an impounded vehicle, your lawyer may be able to suppress it if:
- Police did not give you a chance to have someone pick up your vehicle before they impounded it.
- The car was safely parked and did not need to be towed, but police impounded it anyway.
- Police uncovered evidence as the result of an illegal traffic stop.
Fifth Amendment Rights
You have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to an attorney. Police officers are required to inform you of these rights, known as Miranda rights, upon your arrest—certainly before they begin to question you. If you assert your right to an attorney, police must stop interrogating you until your lawyer arrives to represent you in questioning. Likewise, if you assert your right to remain silent, police are expected to case their interrogations. If they continue to pressure you for information—or if they fail to inform you of your Fifth Amendment rights, any information you give that leads officers to evidence may be suppressed, along with the evidence itself. As your Columbus drug trafficking lawyer, the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm will fight to protect your rights. We know the value of evidence, and we can work to get it suppressed to serve your defense. Call us today at (614) 444-1900.
Ohio Court Process in Drug Trafficking Cases
The Ohio court process in a drug trafficking case can overwhelm a person who stands accused of a crime. By walking through the steps, you can better prepare yourself for the process.
During arraignment, a judge will formally notify you of the drug trafficking offenses with which you have been charged. You, in turn, will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Your lawyer will advise you and represent you in this matter. The judge will review with you any conditions they expect you to follow while your case is pending. You will also be apprised of the date for your next hearing and perhaps your trial. In order to release you, the judge may require that you pay bail—a sum of money that guarantees you will show up to your court appearance. If you cannot post bail, you will have to await your trial date in jail.
After your lawyer and the prosecutor have had some time to work on your case, a pre-trial hearing will take place so that the judge can check progress on both sides. This is a good time to clear up any administrative details or legal issues. Your lawyer may also avail themselves of this opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf.
In these hearings, your lawyer can file pretrial motions, such as motions to suppress evidence, requests for change of venue, and presentation of trial witnesses. If your lawyer has good cause, they may choose to file a motion for dismissal. Examples of cause for a motion to dismiss include:
- No probable cause
- Lack of evidence
- Failure to preserve evidence
Sometimes, the prosecutor or the defense lawyer may deem it beneficial to their case to have the judge decide the case in a summary judgment based on facts presented to date rather than at trial. Such a motion can be submitted at a pretrial hearing.
A readiness hearing gives both sides—prosecution and defense—the opportunity to file a motion for continuance if they feel their case is not ready to go to trial. In some instances, both sides may choose to resolve the case at the readiness hearing, rather than proceed to trial. If so, a negotiated disposition takes place, followed by sentencing. Either way, the readiness hearing is the forum in which all this can happen, as the judge is checking both sides’ preparedness for trial.
In most cases, a resolution is reached before they even make it to the trial stage. If your case does go to trial, you will decide whether you want a bench trial (trial by judge) or a jury trial. Each type of trial has its pros and cons. Your attorney can review the advantages and disadvantages of bench vs jury trial and recommend the best route to take for your case. The prosecutor will present their case against you, using the evidence they have gathered to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the drug trafficking charges. The judge or jury will decide if you are guilty or not guilty of these charges, depending on whether they feel the prosecutor has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Jury trials require a unanimous decision. If not all jurors agree on the same verdict, the judge will be forced to declare a mistrial.
If you are found guilty, the judge will decide your sentence, based on the parameters associated with the charges brought against them. Possibly, your lawyer will have negotiated a sentence with the prosecutor, or your attorney can recommend a sentence to the judge. You will be permitted to make a statement before the Court, and you may also have friends and/or family make statements on your behalf, in an effort to sway the judge in their sentencing decision.
Special Investigators and Prosecutors for Columbus Drug Trafficking Charges
The State of Ohio means business when it comes to getting itself off the nation’s “top five states” lists for drug crimes—and they are channeling their energies for this effort on drug traffickers. Ohio stands ready to do battle against the state’s drug trafficking problem with its 27 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces and specialized prosecution teams.
On the investigation side, the Franklin County HIDTA Drug Task Force collaborates with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office; the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office; a variety of police departments; the United States DEA; and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. The HIDTA group focuses on the mission of sharing information and resources among cooperative units in order to affect the flow of illegal drugs in and out of Franklin County.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety in Columbus and Cleveland established its Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center (ONIC) in 2019. This criminal intelligence unit provides the state’s drug trafficking investigators with criminal intelligence analysts, computer forensic specialists, and deep knowledge of dark web and cryptocurrency. ONIC also makes available its intelligence-driven electronic platform, which statewide task forces can use to share information with law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio.
Columbus Police Department
The local police department’s Tactical Unit can spring into action in response to a drug trafficking situation that requires immediate law enforcement back-up.
Ohio National Guard
The Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Task Force lends its services to Ohio’s various law enforcement efforts. The military unit supports local, state, and federal agencies in their anti-drug efforts, specifically by preventing illegal controlled substances from being manufactured, imported, and distributed.
Franklin County employs a drug unit prosecutor who has a team of specialized drug unit attorneys reporting to them. The prosecutor receives assistance from the state’s attorney general, and the DEA helps with investigation and prosecution preparation in cases of international trafficking, as well as violations of national drug laws. A person who is being investigated or questioned regarding drug trafficking in Columbus must face off against this well-oiled machine of investigators and prosecutors. If you find yourself in this situation, consider hiring a Columbus drug trafficking lawyer sooner rather than later. Call the Joslyn Criminal Defense Law Firm today at (614) 444-1900.
Drug Trafficking Resources
The following resources may prove useful in understanding various aspects of Ohio’s drug trafficking laws, as well as other information related to the general topic of drug crimes at the state and federal levels:
- Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Drug Market Analysis: Overview of trends and concerns regarding Ohio HIDTA region drug trafficking and abuse
- Ohio HIDTA: Ohio HIDTA aims to reduce the availability of drugs in the state by eliminating drug trafficking through coordination with Federal, state, and local law enforcement.
- Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission Drug Offense Quick Reference Guide: Produced in collaboration with Ohio Supreme Court Law Library
- Bureau of Justice Initiatives: Issues grants, training and assistance, and policy development services to state, local, and tribal governments to facilitate drug-crime reduction
- Franklin County Drug Court: Administrators of the “Treatment is Essential to Success (TIES) Program, connecting drug crime offenders with treatment programs in Franklin County.
- Quick Facts on Drug Trafficking Offenses: Provided by the United States Sentencing Commission
- National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS): Collects drug crime chemistry analysis results from tests conducted at various local, state, and federal forensic laboratories
- Ohio Attorney General’s 2022-2023 Drug Use Prevention Grant and Application Guidelines: Issues funds to various Ohio-based law enforcement agencies to address state or local drug problems
- Office of National Drug Control Policy: Implements, assesses, and coordinates national drug policy
- Ohio Revised Code: Drug Offenses (Chapter 2925): Laws related to Ohio drug crimes
- Juvenile Drug Courts: Useful information about juvenile drug court programs
- NORML: Non-profit organization established to influence public opinion about marijuana legalization
- S Attorney’s Office Northern District of Ohio: Article about the U.S. Attorney’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force
- World Drug Report: Information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC)
- National Drug Control Strategy 2022: In 2022, the federal government released a roadmap for strategies to combat drug trafficking and addiction.
Notable Ohio Drug Trafficking Cases
The following cases are worth exploring, either because they underscore the range of drug trafficking crimes that are occurring in Ohio, or because they showcase the approach that police, prosecutors, and courts are taking to handle trafficking offenses.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the former president of Honduras, will be extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and firearms charges. He will appear before a magistrate for the Southern District of New York on April 22, 2022. Mr. Hernandez is accused of conspiracy to help import tons of cocaine into the U.S., receiving millions of dollars to facilitate drug trafficking operations through police and military support. The extradition of Hernandez marks the culmination of several years of investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
In August 2019, Franklin County Drug Task Force detectives commenced a narcotics investigation into cocaine distribution into Franklin County. They used an undercover officer to purchase cocaine from Matthias Trevor White. In September 2019, the task force executed a search warrant at 5959 Finn Glenn Drive Westerville, Ohio 43081. The search yielded around 175 grams of suspected cocaine; $31,860.00 in U.S. currency, and two stolen firearms. White and a woman were charged with Possession of Cocaine. White faced trafficking charges.
In July 2019, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Deputies responded to a report of an assault in Hilliard, Ohio. As they were investigating, it was discovered that an individual involved had a large amount of Xanax. Special Investigation Unit detectives were contacted, arrived at the two scenes connected to the assault incident, and seized nearly 15,000-unit doses. The individuals were both charged with Possession of a Schedule IV Controlled Substance. Additional charges were also pending.
The Columbus Division of Police, the Department of Justice, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office worked together to investigate Glenn Marcell Madison, Jr. (also known as “Monster”). Madison was convicted of two counts of distributing cocaine, one count of distributing meth, and one count of distributing heroin. The sentences for these counts total 60 years in prison. Two additional counts of distributing more than 50 grams of methamphetamine added another potential prison sentence of five to 40 years.
In March 2019, the Franklin County Drug Task Force and U.S. DEA executed a search warrant at an apartment in Columbus. The search revealed more than 120 pounds of marijuana, around 12 pounds of Hashish Solid, LSD, more than five pounds of Psilocybin mushrooms, cocaine, and almost 20,000 vapor cartridges loaded with 98 percent THC. Investigators also seized over $111,000 in cash. The suspects were charged with possession of marijuana and possession of cocaine. Additional charges were pending at the time of this writing.
On March 24, 2020, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus Police’s drug cartel unit’s investigation yielded 33 felony indictments against nine defendants. The investigation also resulted in the seizure of 725 grams of cocaine and methamphetamine, plus 900 pounds of marijuana, and thousands of dollars in cash. The drugs were coming from Mexico, then distributed to Columbus’s East Side and Linden areas.
On November 16, 2019, ABC News 5 from Cleveland reported how a Columbus couple in their early 20s was busted at their home with enough carfentanil to kill more than one million people. Police initially thought the seized drugs were 25 grams of fentanyl. However, drug tests revealed the substance to be carfentanil, a significantly more potent substance used to sedate elephants and other large animals. Cash and firearms were also seized. The couple was indicted on drug trafficking and drug possession charges.
An undercover informant and police officer sold defendant Rafael Gonzales two kilograms of cocaine. Because one of the cocaine bricks weighed 139 grams, the defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison. However, the 6th District Court of Appeals overturned the first-degree felony sentence because the cocaine was mixed with mock cocaine, meaning the total weight of the purchased substance could not count toward the weight used to calculate a criminal charge. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the appeals court’s ruling that the cocaine’s purity should weigh into deciding charges and sentencing for possession of a controlled substance. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor reversed the decision in 2017, remarking that even though the fillers were not controlled substances, they made up a portion of the usable drug, and making their weight relevant in measuring the total weight of the seized drugs. Prosecutors have benefited from this precedent by being able to seek higher penalties for cocaine possession, despite its mixture with fillers.
In 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court engaged in resolving a conflict between two statutes having to do with sentencing for repeat offenders of a methamphetamine manufacturing offense. One of the statutes directs a mandatory five-year prison term because of the crime being a felony of the third degree. However, the other statute caps all sentences, except for a handful of felonies of the third degree. The Court ultimately resolved that the five-year provision takes precedence.
When a Cleveland police detective patted down three people, he suspected were about to rob a store, the detective found concealed weapons on John Terry and Richard Clinton. Both individuals were tried and convicted of carrying concealed weapons. The defendants appealed the decision using the defense of illegal search. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren determined that the defendants’ suspicious behavior gave the detective legitimate cause to conduct a limited pat-down. The search was deemed lawful within the parameters of the Fourth Amendment. Chief Warren further ruled that stop-and-frisk searches are not automatic violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Columbus Drug Treatment Centers
If you or someone you know suffers from a drug addiction or abuse problem, consider reaching out to one of the following Columbus-area treatment facilities:
- Franklin County Mental Health and Addiction Crisis Center: The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) is working to build a new addiction crisis center in the county to break ground in 2022. This new facility in Columbus will take a “no-wrong-door” approach to ensure that any adult who arrives at the center will receive services.
- Freedom Recovery: Freedom Recovery was founded by people who experienced the struggle of addiction and offers the trusted 12-step plan recovery plan. It accepts all versions of Medicaid and a variety of insurance plans.
- City of Columbus Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient recovery care for people over the age of 18 in both individual and group therapy sessions
- Crossroads Recovery Services: Offers a wide range of treatment programs, many of which are tailored to people needing to fulfill court-ordered requirements
- Southeast Healthcare Services: Focuses on the individual, offering both MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) and Telehealth programs
- House of Hope: Established in 1959, House of Hope offers addiction treatment for no fee or small fees for most of their clients
- Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services: Offers Ohioans a safe place for drug addiction treatment and recovery
- Talbot Hall: Stays abreast of the latest and upcoming treatment options
- The Recovery Village Columbus: Treats drug-addiction troubled people throughout their inpatient care, medical detox, outpatient care, and post-care follow-up
- North Central Mental Health Services Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program: Treats any individual struggling with substance abuse, including individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf
- The Ridge Residential Drug Rehab: Focuses on the origin of addiction and helps addicts with stress management through therapy and detox.
“Former Columbus Police Officer Guilty of Fentanyl Trafficking” – Former Columbus police officer Marco R. Merino pleaded guilty to charges of drug distribution and bribery, according to the United States Department of Justice. Merino was arrested in September 2021 for distributing and selling fentanyl, as well as taking bribes to facilitate cocaine distribution. Merino awaits sentencing. The former officer could face up to life in prison on charges for possession with the intent to distribute.
“Drug Trafficking Laws Invoke Serious Consequences” – Ohio State Bar Association discusses penalties associated with drug trafficking in Ohio.
“15 indicted in connection to multi-county drug trafficking operation in central Ohio” – The WBNS-10TV staff reported on March 6, 2020 the indictment of 15 people involved in a drug trafficking organization in central Ohio. More than 62.5 pounds of methamphetamine were distributed across multiple counties, including Franklin County.
“Ohio high court denies drug trafficker’s football analogy defense” – On March 9, 2020, Fremont News Messenger reported that a convicted drug dealer in Columbus lost his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court claiming that the warrants used to intercept phone conversations in his investigation were illegal. A warrant had permitted police to listen to phone calls through which Keith Nettles facilitated drug trafficking. Prior to his trial, Nettles moved to suppress evidence obtained from a warrant that permitted police to listen to his phone calls, in which he conducted trafficking business. Nettles compared the wiretap to a football interception, saying, “When a quarterback’s pass is intercepted by a defensive player, the interception is deemed to have occurred at the point where the defensive player took possession of the ball,” the appeal said. “Similarly, here… the interception takes place only where the agent overhears the call.”
“Former Ohio postal employee sentenced to prison for drug trafficking, mail theft” – On July 2, 2020, Highland County Press reported that a Columbus man was sentenced to 36 months in prison for receiving marijuana and methamphetamine shipments from California at a post office box he rented where he worked. Postal Inspectors started investigating reports of drug trafficking between Ohio and California in 2017. Their investigation revealed that a processing clerk had rented a post office box to facilitate drug trafficking. They seized 1,438 grams of methamphetamine and 493 grams of marijuana from the offender after he picked up the parcels from the Oakland Park post office.
Drug Trafficking Q&A
Q. What is a major drug offender (MDO)?
Ohio defines a major drug offender as those in possession of a significant amount of a controlled substance. The quantity required to classify somebody as an MDO varies depending on the type of substance. (Ohio Revised Code § 2929.01(W))
- Hashish: 1,000 grams
- Cocaine 100 grams
- Heroin: 1,000 unit doses or 100 grams
- LSD: 5,000 unit doses or 500 grams
- Controlled substance analogs: 50 grams
- Fentanyl-related compounds: 1,000 unit doses or 100 grams
- Other schedule I or II controlled substances other than marihuana: At least 100 times the amount necessary to constitute a felony of the third degree
Q. What are the penalties for a major drug offender in Ohio?
A major drug offender in Ohio faces a felony of the first degree with a mandatory sentence of 11 years in prison.
Q. What quantity of drugs will lead to a drug trafficking charge?
Ohio defines drug trafficking as selling, proposing to sell, or preparing for transport and distribution any controlled substance. The quantity of drugs in question dictates the level of offense that the defendant faces.
Q. Is drug trafficking a felony or misdemeanor?
Drug trafficking is charged as a felony. This is a much more serious offense than drug possession. If police find that you are in possession of a certain quantity of illegal controlled substances, and they believe you intended to sell or distribute them, the offense is upgraded from possession to felony.
Q. What are the penalties for drug trafficking?
Ohio’s penalties for drug trafficking depend on several factors:
- Type of drug
- Quantity of drug
- Level of offense
Penalties range from up to 12 months in prison for a felony of the fifth degree to up to 10 years in prison for a felony of the first degree. Those convicted also face fines of up to $2,500 for a felony of the fifth degree to up to $20,000 for a felony of the first degree.
Q. Will I go to prison if I was arrested for drug trafficking?
Drug trafficking offenses in Ohio are felonies. Penalties for drug trafficking offenses in Ohio may include a jail or prison sentence. A felony conviction in Ohio carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to 10 years, depending on the level of the offense.
Q. How can I avoid going to jail for drug trafficking?
Your lawyer can use several defenses to beat a trafficking charge. In many cases, defense lawyers will try to suppress evidence based on the police having violated your constitutional rights.
Q. How much is bail for drug trafficking?
The judge will set your bail at the arraignment when your official charge is read and you plead guilty or not guilty. If you do not post bail, you will need to stay in jail and wait for your trial date.
Q. Do hospitals report drug use to the police?
Doctors are bound to a certain extent by doctor-patient confidentiality. However, if the doctor discovers something about their patient that poses a threat to public safety, there may be exceptions to this binding agreement, according to the American Medical Association.