How do you prove drug trafficking?

Drug Trafficking Definition

The elements of the crime of possession with intent to distribute or drug trafficking are:

  1. The exercise of control over the controlled substance;
  2. Knowledge that the substance was present;
  3. Knowledge that the substance was a narcotic drug, dangerous drug, prescription-only or other illegal drug; and
  4. That the drug was possessed for purpose of a sale.

It is the final one of these elements that distinguishes possession for sale of a drug from mere possession.

Simple Drug Possession vs Drug Trafficking

It is important to remember that the State has the burden to prove that you were in possession of a certain drug and that you sold or intended to sell that drug. Many times, proving felony drug possession is fairly easy but the intent to distribute is where the drug trafficking case becomes difficult for the State to prove.

When a case lacks direct evidence of an actual drug transaction occurring, the State will often rely on expert testimony. These experts will attempt to establish that in addition to the drugs found there is other evidence or there are signs of drug trafficking. This evidence is commonly referred to as indicia of sale. Examples of indicia of sale include:

  • Scales;
  • Baggies;
  • Cash;
  • Ledges;
  • Large amounts of a particular drug;
  • Volume of people coming in and out of a house;
  • Witness testimony of drug sales.

In drug trafficking cases, if the State is unable to prove that you not only possessed a drug but that you sold or intended to sell that drug, then you are only guilty of a lesser offense of felony possession of drugs.

Punishments for Possession with Intent to Distribute First Offense

The consequences of drug trafficking can be severe under Arizona law, even for a first offense. Prior drug sale convictions or prior felonies can increase possible punishments. That said, drug trafficking of narcotic drugs, dangerous drugs and marijuana is a class 2 felony. The maximum and minimum punishment that you can expect after a conviction for a class 2 felony is:

  • Probation (only if under threshold – see below); or
  • Between 3 and a maximum of 12.5 years in prison.