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<