What do you do if you’ve been charged with drug trafficking?

Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

Time is of the essence if you’ve been charged with drug trafficking. This extremely serious offence carries life-changing sentences, so you should immediately enlist the services of a specialist drug offences solicitors.

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Drug trafficking charges – why you need immediate legal advice

While UK sentences for drug trafficking aren’t as severe as sentences in other countries, being found guilty of the offence can still mean life imprisonment or very long prison sentences. 

The best course of action is to seek immediate legal advice on drug trafficking. We can help to reduce the impact of charges on your personal and professional life, working towards achieving the best possible legal solution for you. In some cases, immediate legal guidance could lead to charges being dropped at an early stage.

In all cases, sound legal advice will ensure you avoid implicating yourself further, by misleading investigators or destroying evidence, for example. Or you might agree to something and later regret doing so.

Having a solicitor present at police interviews means having experienced professionals advising you on what to say and what you shouldn’t say. They will also inform you about your rights and counter any allegations levelled at you.

They’ll be able to do this better by requesting disclosure from the police, which uncovers exactly what evidence there is against you. They can then formulate a strategy based on all the available information – before police questioning. It is rare to gain disclosure without a solicitor.

There are many ways a good solicitor can further minimise the consequences of drug trafficking charges.

What is drug trafficking?

Drug trafficking can be defined as selling, transporting or illegally bringing controlled substances into a country. According to Europol, a fifth of all organised crime profits come from drug trafficking.

What happens when you’re charged with drug trafficking?

First of all, you’ll be presented with a charge sheet, detailing all the charges you face. 

If you’re charged formally at a police station, you’ll receive your charge sheet in person. The police will determine whether or not to release you on bail. If you’re not released on police bail, you’ll be held in custody until your court date, which would be at the first available court in that area.

It could be that you’re charged through a Notice of Criminal Charge, which is a summons ordering you to attend magistrates’ court.

Even if your case is deemed serious enough to be heard at the Crown Court, it will first go through a magistrates’ court, although this would just represent a preliminary hearing. This is the first time that the issue of bail in court can be considered.

What happens at court?

If you’ve been charged or summonsed to court, you must attend court, unless you have a reasonable excuse and keep the court informed. Failure to attend is a serious offence if you are on bail, punishable by a fine or even a prison sentence. If you fail to attend without giving proper notice, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. 

You can also be prosecuted for failing to arrive at court on time. It’s worth noting that you should aim to arrive 30 minutes before the time stated in your hearing letter, but there is no need to arrive earlier unless requested by your solicitor.

If you plead guilty, your case will go straight to sentencing, which will be dealt with by the magistrate’s court or, in more serious cases, the Crown Court. Pleading guilty will lead to a reduction in your sentence, with larger reductions the earlier you plead guilty.

If you plead not guilty, your case will go to trial, where the prosecution will attempt to prove your guilt and your solicitors will attempt to prove your innocence. Magistrates (or the jury at a Crown Court case) will decide whether your guilt has been proven. If it hasn’t, you’ll be found not guilty and are free to go.

Following a guilty verdict, a sentencing hearing will normally follow immediately. Your solicitors will offer mitigation at this hearing, asking the judge or magistrate to consider your personal circumstances and the circumstances surrounding the case when deciding upon a sentence.

Drug trafficking cases might also involve confiscation proceedings, which can lead to assets being seized if they’ve been gained through illegal means. This can include everything from property to cash.

What are the possible sentences for drug trafficking? 

There are various factors affecting sentences for drug trafficking offences. The scale of the trafficking operation is one of the main factors: the quantity of drugs and the number of transactions/deals. The classification of the drug itself also plays a huge role in sentencing. And, of course, previous convictions also influence the severity of the sentence.

The most serious sentence possible is a life sentence in prison, but this would be exceedingly rare. More common are long custodial sentences, while it is also possible that the court imposes an unlimited fine or a combination of both.

The type of drugs involved

The exact drug/s being trafficked is one of the primary factors in prison sentencing guidelines.

Trafficking Class A drugs carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Class A drugs include:

  • Crack cocaine
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Magic mushrooms
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine (crystal meth)

Dealing in Class B or C drugs can lead to a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Some of the most common Class B drugs are:

  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Cannabis
  • Codeine
  • Ketamine

The lowest class of drugs – Class C – includes the following substances:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Benzodiazepines (diazepam)
  • Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
  • Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
  • Piperazines (BZP)
  • Khat

Aside from the type of drug being trafficked, the amount involved is, naturally, vitally important. The purity of the substance is another crucial factor.

The level of your involvement

It isn’t just drug dealers who can be found guilty of supplying drugs. Any quantity over an amount that might be for personal use is considered for charges of possession with intent to distribute. Even sharing drugs with friends comes under this charge.

However, someone supplying a small amount of a banned substance to a friend will obviously be sentenced differently to the head of an organised drugs operation.

Also, drug traffickers are sometimes unwitting – or unwilling – participants in the crime. In some cases, drugs ‘mules’ are completely unaware of the drugs they’re transporting, while other mules are coerced into trafficking banned substances or told they’re transporting a lower class of drug.

Of course, other items found in a suspect’s control, alongside drugs, can provide evidence and suggest guilt and greater involvement. Such items include weighing scales, cutting agents and bags for packaging drugs.

Other factors that can affect sentencing

Previous convictions, particularly when they relate to drug offences, will affect the severity of the sentence you receive. While anyone who has abused their professional position to traffic drugs can face a longer sentence as a result.

On the other hand, if you believe there are mitigating factors that could work in your favour when it comes to sentencing, you should mention them to your solicitor as soon as possible.

Does being charged mean you have a criminal record?

Being charged does not mean that you have a criminal record as such, although it can be revealed on a DBS or enhanced DBS enquiry. A criminal record in the formal sense normally arises when someone is convicted of an offence and the conviction is not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. 

Some convictions can never be spent and some will be spent after a certain amount of time. Much will depend on the nature of the offence for which someone has been convicted and the punishment. It is possible that even simple cautions and out of court disposals can still come up on certain DBS enquiries, but every case must be considered separately. In some circumstances, you can apply to have the offence removed from police records.

Drug trafficking, however, is a ‘qualifying offence’, meaning you’ll have a criminal record if you’re charged with it, even if you’re not convicted.

What should you do after being charged with drug trafficking?

No matter the circumstances surrounding the case, the very first thing you should do after being charged with drug trafficking is speak to a drug offence specialist law firm.If you stand accused of or charged with drug trafficking, contact our expert solicitors immediately to secure the best outcome possible.

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