Monthly Archives: September 2016

What Is Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking is defined under state and federal law. It involves the selling and distribution of illegal drugs that are defined in criminal statutes. They may include drugs such as steroids, methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs that are sold in large quantities. Even if a person is arrested with only a small amount of drugs in his or her possession for personal use, he or she may still face federal charges for this crime. State law may consider drug trafficking only when larger quantities are involved and classifying smaller amounts as possession charges.

Criminal Implications

When individuals are found with serious drugs in their possession, certain criminal implications may arise. The United States takes the drug trade very seriously. A defendant may face inflated charges simply for being in possession of certain drugs. He or she may quickly be implicated for this crime even if he or she has no knowledge of the workings of his or her drug dealer.

Penalties of Drug Trafficking

The potential penalties for drug trafficking are quite severe. The punishment is usually based on the type of drug involved and its quantity. It is not uncommon for a person to receive a prison sentence of 20 years for a first time conviction of drug trafficking. A person may also face additional penalties including very large fines, rehabilitation, community service and the imposition of probation or parole. His or her personal belongings may be seized if they are believed to be linked to the crime or received through ill-gotten gains.

Since there are often parallel state and federal crimes when it comes to drug charges, the defendant may find that he or she is charged under both state and federal law. This can happen despite double jeopardy protections. If there is a choice between filing state or federal charges, the federal charges are often brought. This results in the criminal defendant facing minimum mandatory sentencing.

In addition to the criminal consequences of a drug trafficking conviction, a defendant may face many other repercussions. He or she may lose a professional license or CDL. He or she may be barred from pursuing certain types of career trajectories. His or her employment applications may be rejected based on status as a convicted felon. He or she may be barred from going to college or receiving student loans. He or she may also be barred from public housing or other types of housing. His or her professional reputation can easily be ruined by such a conviction.

The Process of Expungement

There are a number of ways that expunging a criminal record can benefit the criminal defendant who no longer will need to worry about this information being publicly accessible.

What Expungement Is

Expunge can mean different things. In some jurisdictions, it essentially means to wipe out, burn or destroy the records associated with the criminal charge that is expunged. In other jurisdictions, it may mean to “seal” or otherwise conceal this information from public view. In any event, the desired outcome is the same: to hide from public view the commission of any crime.

Expungement does not have to be based on any theory of the defendant’s innocence. It is presumed that he or she committed the crime because he or she has already been convicted of the crime. Instead, expungement takes into consideration that a criminal conviction can continue to have a negative impact on a person’s life well after he or she has completed all terms of his or her conviction.

Process of Expungement

How a criminal record is expunged is based on state law. However, the general process is for the defendant to petition the court to expunge his or her record. The expungement is usually based on one particular crime rather than the defendant’s entire criminal record. The petition explains the reason why expungement is being sought, the nature of the charges against the defendant and the reasons why the expungement should be granted. It is usually accompanied by the defendant’s court documents. The expungement application may ask for proof of rehabilitation.

The type of charges that can be expunged vary by each jurisdiction. Some areas restrict expungement to only minor crimes, misdemeanors or juvenile offenses. Others permit additional crimes to be expunged if the defendant was a first time offender. Certain crimes may be excluded from being able to be expunged, including DUIs, sex crimes or violent crimes.

The court reviews the case and the application. The defendant must have usually completed all elements of his or her sentencing, including any ordered probation. Likewise, the defendant may have to wait for a certain period after the conviction or the finishing of all elements of sentencing to establish that he or she will not take part in criminal activity.

Effect of Expungement

If the court grants an expungement, most public entities will not be able to see the conviction or view documents related to the case. However, law enforcement may still be able to access these records. Additionally, a prosecutor may be able to access these records and include the conviction as a prior offense when sentencing determinations are made for a subsequent offense.

Benefits of Expungement

There are a number of benefits to having a criminal record expunged, including:

College

Many expungement requests are made by young people who have a juvenile record due to a misjudgment made during their youth. Having a criminal record expunged may prevent colleges from seeing this negative information.

Employment

Having a criminal record expunged can help avoid the barriers to employment that many convicted individuals face. An expunged record will keep most employers from having access to this information if they run a criminal background check. However, if the defendant is seeking employment with the federal government or law enforcement, he or she can expect that this information will still be accessible to these agencies.

Eighteenth Century History of Plea Bargains

Up until the eighteenth century, a jury trial was often conducted without the use of a lawyer. The judge dominated this system. The defendant was denied legal counsel. In some instances, the prosecution was conducted by a lawyer, but in many instances, the judge handled much of the criminal procedure. The defendant would speak continuously at trial and even reply to the witnesses supplied by the prosecution. Due to the lack of legal counsel, cases tended to be handled much more quickly. Courts may try between 12 and 20 felony cases each day. As such, there was no real need for a plea bargaining system.

1960s

During the 1960s the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright significantly changed the way that criminal cases are handled. In that case, the Court ruled that indigent defendants have the right to legal counsel. As such, criminal cases now have a lawyer representing the criminal defendant’s rights and another lawyer representing the interests of the state. The need for plea bargains is more significant due to the prevalence of legal representation.

Miranda Rights

Another important distinction between how criminal cases are handled today and how they were handled years ago is the development of Miranda Rights. Among other rights, criminal defendants are now advised that anything that they say can be used against them in court. This reading of rights occurs at the time of arrest or before a suspect is interrogated. As such, more criminal defendants are made away of their right to be free from self-incrimination, which is laid out in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. As such, many criminal defendants do not say anything to law enforcement and rely solely on their lawyers for their defense. With less ammunition to use against the defendant, a greater need for plea bargains exists.

Modern Pressures

Today, there are many pressures that influence the popularity of plea bargain agreements. There are more cases on the dockets than ever before. Prosecutors lack the time necessary to go through an extensive trial for every case, even if it a winnable case for the prosecutor. Additionally, prosecutors are often overburdened with too many cases at one time.

Public defenders often face a similar set of circumstances. They are often assigned so many cases that they may not meet with the client until the court date. They may try to quickly dispose of cases to move onto the next one. Private criminal defense lawyers who are in demand in the area may also have many cases to balance at one time.