California Drug Smuggling Laws & Charges + Statute Of Limitations

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Section 11379 of the California Health and Safety Code prohibits any individual from unlawfully transporting, selling, importing, exporting, or distributing controlled substances. The term “controlled substances” can refer to either:

  • Legally prescribed medication
  • Illegal drugs

Smuggling drugs in California is something that is treated as a federal crime because it involves the process of goods being transferred across national borders. In some cases, however, state to state drug smuggling can exist. As a federal crime, drug smuggling has its own sentencing guidelines which often involve a mandatory amount of prison time. In rare instances, importation of drugs can also be seen as an act of terrorism, which can lead to additional penalties.

Because drug smuggling in California is deemed as a serious offense, it is enforced and overseen by a number of different federal agencies, including the United States Border Patrol, the US Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and even the US Coast Guard.

Laws and Penalties

A charge of drug smuggling is very serious, and individuals convicted of the crime may find themselves facing anywhere between years and decades behind bars. Although, like with many crimes, the severity of the penalties associated with drug smuggling convictions can vary, California imposes significant penalties for drug smuggling and trafficking.

If you possess drugs that are smuggled into California, and you are convicted of the federal felony of drug smuggling, then you might be punished according to the number of drugs involved in your arrest. For instance, if the weight of the drugs that were seized from you totaled at least five hundred grams of mixed substances containing a detectable amount of meth, you may face a minimum of up to 10 years to life in prison for a first offense, as well as a $10 million fine.

Alternatively, drug trafficking convictions depending on the drug in question may include:

  • A prison sentence – all drug trafficking convictions generally result in some prison sentence that lasts for longer than a single year.
  • Fines – most fines associated with drug smuggling can be quite serious and usually exceed $25,000.
  • Probation – in some drug smuggling cases, probation can be offered as part of a plea bargain wherein the accused agrees to plead guilty to a less serious set of charges.

Drug Smuggling Defenses

With the help of the right lawyer, it is possible to prove your innocence in a drug smuggling case. There are also a range of defenses that a lawyer can present during your case to help lower the penalty you might be expected to receive. For example, these defenses may include:

  • Unlawful search and seizure – the fourth amendment in the U.S. constitution ensures that each person should be given the right to the due process of law, including lawful seizure and search procedures that are conducted before an arrest can take place. In drug possession cases, search and seizures are regularly used in a defense.
  • Drugs belonging to someone else – one of the most common defenses to any crime is to attempt to convince the judge that you simply didn’t do it. The drug possession equivalent in smuggling is to claim that the drugs weren’t yours or you had no idea that you were carrying them into California in the first place.
  • Crime lab analysis – Just because a bag looks as though it contains a certain amount of drugs doesn’t mean that the substance within that bag is drugs. Because of this, the prosecution must be able to prove that the substance they have seized is actually the drug that they have claimed it is. This often includes sending evidence to a crime lab for further analysis.
  • Missing evidence – Sometimes, a skilled attorney may be able to ensure that the prosecutor in a drug smuggling case is unable to produce the drugs that they are charging the defendant with smuggling. Similar to the need for crime lab analysis, an officer who loses, or lacks the actual drugs to provide to the court in terms of evidence will risk the case being dismissed.
  • Planted drugs – although it may be difficult to prove, some attorneys may attempt to show that the drugs in question were actually planted on the defendant, rather than being carried by that defendant into California.
  • Entrapment – Although law enforcement officials have the right to conduct sting operations, entrapment can occur with informants pushing a suspect into committing a crime that they otherwise would not have committed.
  • Medical Marijuana Exception – the use of medical marijuana may be used as a defense in the courts of California.

Statute of Limitations

Because it is a federal crime, the statute of limitations for drug smuggling currently stands at five years. After five years have passed then a person can no longer be charged with the smuggling crime. However, in some cases, it is possible for conspiracy charges to be raised, and in this case, the statute will begin to run down after the last act in the conspiracy took place.

California Drug Smuggling Cases