Utah has created treatment-focused Drug Court programs in Park City and other jurisdictions, allowing eligible offenders to stay out of jail. However, despite these programs, Utah continues to enforce some of the country’s toughest anti-drug laws. Violating these laws can lead to harsh consequences, even for juveniles, non-violent offenders, and defendants who are being charged with a first offense drug crime. Sentencing is especially harsh for offenses involving drug trafficking, drug distribution, or possession with intent to distribute (PWID). Federal drug crimes, such as transporting drugs across state lines, often carry mandatory minimum sentences.
If you or a family member has been arrested for selling drugs, PWID, drug trafficking, or other crimes involving controlled substances or prescription drugs, you need to contact a criminal defense lawyer right away. It may be possible to have your charges reduced, or even have your case dismissed, but every second you delay works against you. For immediate legal help from a Park City drug distribution lawyer who has more than 16 years of experience working on thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases, contact the law offices of Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287 today.
What is Drug Trafficking?
“Drug trafficking” is a broad term that includes a wide variety of drug crimes. Federal law defines a drug trafficking crime to mean any felony that is prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act or the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act. This includes:
- Drug Distribution
- Drug Manufacturing
- Importing Dugs
It is also illegal to possess or use controlled substances, including marijuana, which has been neither legalized nor decriminalized in Utah as of May 2017. However, unless the charges involve interstate operations or organized crime, most Utah drug possession charges are prosecuted at the state level in District Court or Justice Court.
Drug Trafficking Penalties
Most drug crimes are prosecuted at the state level rather than the federal level. However, if an alleged drug crime crosses state lines – for example, if a person is arrested for transporting drugs between Utah and Colorado or Nevada – the defendant could be charged with a federal crime. That means the case will be tried in federal court, rather than one of Utah’s District Courts or Justice Courts.
Federal Drug Trafficking Sentencing Guidelines
Though both sets of penalties can be severe, federal crimes typically result in longer sentences than state crimes. Additionally, convictions of federal offenses are more likely to result in incarceration. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, nearly 96% of drug offenders were sentenced to prison time in 2015, and nearly half received a mandatory minimum sentence. The average sentence for drug trafficking was 66 months (five and a half years).
More than 17% of offenders received enhanced penalties due to using a weapon during the crime. Conversely, about 17% of offenders received lighter penalties because they played a minor role in the trafficking operation. On the other hand, nearly 8% received enhanced penalties for playing a leadership role. Your drug trafficking defense attorney will analyze your charges carefully to determine whether it is possible to obtain a reduction in the penalties you are facing.
Federal mandatory minimums for drug trafficking depend on:
- Whether it is the defendant’s first offense.
- The type of drug involved in the offense.
- The quantity of the substance.
- Whether anyone was seriously injured or killed because of the crime.
Depending on these factors, a mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking or related offenses could be:
- 1 year
- 3 years
- 5 years
- 10 years
- 20 years
- Life in prison
Utah Penalty for Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID)
Even if a defendant is not tried in federal court, he or she is still in jeopardy of receiving a lengthy prison sentence under the Utah Controlled Substances Act. The penalties for a Utah drug distribution offense depend on factors like:
- The type and quantity of the substance involved.
- How the substance is categorized (Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV, or Schedule V).
- Whether the defendant used a gun.
The person could also be charged with related offenses, such as simple possession of controlled substances or possession of drug paraphernalia. Though generally less serious than distribution and trafficking charges, these offenses can still add months or years to a defendant’s sentence.
Depending on these factors, the defendant may face the following criminal penalties:
- Class B Misdemeanor Penalties– Maximum 6 months in jail, maximum $1,000 fine
- Class A Misdemeanor Penalties– Maximum 1 year in jail, maximum $2,500 fine
- Third Degree Felony Penalties– Maximum 5 years in prison, maximum $5,000 fine
- Second Degree Felony Penalties– Maximum 15 years in prison, maximum $10,000 fine
- First Degree Felony Penalties– Possible sentence of life in prison, maximum $10,000 fine
Utah Code § 58-37-8 also makes some special sentencing provisions for certain controlled substance offenses. For example, even though the minimum sentence for a first degree felony is typically five years, the statute specifies a minimum first degree felony sentence of seven years in certain situations.
While these consequences are severe, they may be avoidable with skilled and strategic legal representation. For example, many drug offenders in Utah are eligible for Drug Court, which has two major benefits:
- The defendant’s charges will be dismissed.
- The defendant will not have to go to jail or prison.
In order to receive these benefits, the defendant has to complete the Drug Court program successfully, which involves passing drug tests and following other rules. Darwin will review your charges to determine whether you qualify for Drug Court and whether the program is a good option for your case.
Contact a Park City Drug Distribution and Trafficking Attorney
Darwin Overson handles a wide array of drug trafficking and drug distribution charges in Park City, including charges that involve:
- Crack Cocaine
- LSD (Acid)
- MDMA (Ecstasy)
- Powder Cocaine
Darwin represents defendants in Salt Lake County, Utah County, Wasatch County, Tooele County, Box Elder County, Summit County, Morgan County, Davis County, Weber County, and other locations throughout Utah. If your loved one has already been taken into police custody, Darwin can arrange an emergency attorney visit to the holding center or county jail where he or she is being detained. To set up a free and confidential legal consultation with Darwin, call Overson Law, PLLC today at (801) 758-2287.