Drug transportation crime occurs when a person transports controlled substances from one location to another with knowledge of the presence of the illegal drug. If the illegal movement of the drugs crosses state or national borders, then charges may be brought under federal law.
Possession vs. Ownership
The most common misconception by individuals charged with possession or transportation of drugs is belief that since “drugs were not mine” the prosecutors involved cannot prove guilt. That belief however is not accurate.
There are two elements of the criminal charge of drug possession: (1) knowledge and (2) possession of drugs.
The first element is the culpable mental state or “mens rea” of a crime. In drug possession cases, the required mental state is: “knowingly.” Prosecutors must prove that a person is aware of the possessed contraband. Arizona Revised Statute § 13-105 defines “knowingly” – as: with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware or believes that the person’s conduct is of that nature or that the circumstance exists. It does not require any knowledge of the unlawfulness of the act or omission.
The second element is actual or constructive possession of the illegal contraband. The actual possession occurs if an individual has drugs in his physical custody, whereas constructive possession takes place if a person is able to exercise dominion and control over contraband.
Penalties for Drug Transportation in Arizona
In Arizona, the criminal charges and penalties depend on type and quantity of the illegal drugs. However, an individual’s criminal record will increase these penalties. There are three main categories of drug transportation cases:
- Transportation of Narcotic Drugs for sale is governed by ARS § 13-3408(A)(7) – A person may be charged with this crime if they knowingly transport for sale, offer to transport for sale or import into Arizona, sell, transfer a narcotic drug. This crime is a class 2 felony punishable with a sentence between 3 and 12.5 years in prison for a first-time offense.
- Transportation of Dangerous Drug for sale is governed by ARS § 13-3407(A)(2) – A person may be charged with this crime if they knowingly transport for sale, offer to transport for sale or import into this state, sell, transfer or offer to sell or transfer a dangerous drug. This crime is punishable as a class 2 felony which carries up to maximum of 12.5 years in prison for first time offense, yet if the dangerous drug is methamphetamine, the maximum penalty may be up to 15 years in prison for first time offense.
- Transportation of Marijuana for Sale is governed by ARS § 13-3405 (A)(4) – A person may be charged with this crime if they knowingly transport for sale, offer to transport for sale or import into Arizona, sell, transfer marijuana. This crime is punishable based on the weight of the Marijuana:
- If the amount of an amount of marijuana having a weight of less than two pounds is guilty of a class 3 felony.
- If the amount of an amount of marijuana having a weight of two pounds or more is guilty of a class 2 felony.
Drugs in Vehicles
Most drug transportation cases in Arizona start from a simple traffic stop of the motorist by state troopers of the Department of Public Safety on an interstate highway. State Troopers are trained in drug interdiction and are looking for any clues or suspicions of criminal activity during every encounter with a motorist.
In these situations, it is common for law enforcement to stop an individual for a simple traffic infraction; such as speeding, crossing a fog line or following too closely. During the stop, troopers typically engage drivers in a casual conversation that may lead to a person’s nervousness or inconsistent story about their travel plans. Other clues of suspicious activity that are taken into account are the presence of air fresheners, multiple cell phones, shaking and sweating hands. State troopers use a drug courier profile to develop a reasonable suspicion and can later deploy the K9 unit if found necessary.
Law enforcement has started using License Plate Readers (LPR) to confront a driver and his/her travel story with data collected from the reading device. License Plate Readers are placed on highways and show travel dates, times and location of the particular vehicle in question. Once a trooper confronts the driver or passenger with their travel plans and the answers do not match the data from LPR, law enforcement can then use the given information as the allegation of deceit. As a result, the reasonable suspicion to call for K9 assistance may be developed based on deceit and several aforesaid clues of alleged criminal activity. After the officer develops reasonable suspicion to call for the K9 unit, he does not have the right to search the car, unless the driver consents, or the probable cause exists. Only after the K9 positive alert to the vehicle, law enforcement will develop probable cause to search the car for drugs or other illicit materials.
During any drug investigation, it is very important to remember your constitutional rights to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present while in custody and questioned by the state or federal government.