Drug Smuggling Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Smuggling is the act of transporting goods across borders in order to avoid import or export restrictions, avoid customs agents, or to avoid any other kind of notice from authorities. When most people hear the term, they think of narcotics, weapons, or even humans. But numerous other goods are smuggled regularly across international borders, ranging from animals to cigars to films. Generally, if a demand is present in the country for some type of item that isn’t allowed to be in the country, smuggling is likely to take place.

Smuggling Laws

Smuggling is treated as a federal crime due to the fact that it involves goods being transported over national borders – though in some cases state to state smuggling exists. A good example of this is in the transport of Burmese Pythons into Florida, which has banned the snake from the pet trade entirely. Usually, smuggling involves drugs, Cuban cigars, weapons, and certain plants or animals.

Smuggling is a serious offense, and one that is overseen and enforced by numerous federal agencies including:

  • The US Coast Guard
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration
  • The US Customs Service
  • The US Border Patrol

There are two primary methods used to smuggle goods. The first is to conceal items on themselves or in their baggage, vehicles, or somewhere else. Then, they cross the border with the hidden items. The second method is to actually move the goods without being detected at all. Planes, boats, and trucks are regularly used in this case, and even underground tunnels are occasionally employed – particularly in the narcotic trade.

Smuggling Crimes and Charges

Smuggling crimes are treated as very serious offenses, and the federal law punishes violators harshly. Under the current US law and laid out in Title 18, Section 545, smuggling crimes include:

  • Knowingly smuggling or attempting to smuggle any merchandise that should have been declared or invoiced by customs
  • Knowingly attempting to pass false or forged invoices or documents in order to bring undeclared or illegal items into the US
  • Knowingly bringing any merchandise that is illegal in the United States across the borders through any method

Under these laws, prison sentences of up to 20 years can be used as punishments – along with fines. Additionally, the merchandise in question will be confiscated permanently by the United States government. It’s also worth noting that based on the type of goods imported, additional laws may be violated. In this case, further charges could be filed against a suspect.

Smuggling Punishment

As mentioned above, smuggling is a federal crime and will be treated as a felony. Prison sentences can reach up to 20 years in many cases, and will often involve fines that can reach millions of dollars depending on the situation. In cases of drug smuggling, even more serious charges can be filed and lead to more prison time than smuggling of other goods such as Cuban cigars. Things like criminal history, amount of goods found to be smuggled, and more can all impact the eventual sentence.

Smuggling Sentencing Guidelines

There are some basic guidelines used to determine sentences for smuggling. In general, sentencing is determined using a point system. The base point value will range from 26 up to 43 depending on the nature of the product or drug and other factors such as whether or not there is a criminal history or if death occurred as a result of the substance being smuggled into the country. Additional points are then added based on the specifics of the crime. For instance, if violence was used or threatened during the smuggling operation, 2 points will be added. Another 2 will be added if a firearm was possessed during the smuggling operation.

In cases of drug smuggling, the type of drug and amount will have a major impact on the final sentence, with most drugs carrying a minimum of 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50 million dollars.

Smuggling Statute of Limitations

As a federal crime, the statute of limitations for smuggling is 5 years. After this point, a person can’t be charged with the crime. However, certain cases could lead to conspiracy charges. In this case, the statute begins to run down after the last act associated with the conspiracy.

Smuggling Cases

There are many well-known cases of smuggling throughout history, ranging from drug smugglers to gun smugglers, and more.

  • Brian O’Dea is one of the most well-known and infamous smugglers in history, bringing in huge amounts of cocaine from 1972 throughout most of the 80s before finally being caught and spending time in prison.
  • The Mummy, AKA Jesus Aguilar, was responsible for numerous smuggling operations and for training special forces enforcers for drug cartels. He has recently been extradited to the US for trial.

Smuggling Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Smuggling Quick Links and References