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Why first-time drug offenders may face harsher penalties

A person charged of trafficking drugs in North Carolina may face significant penalties for having even the smallest role in transporting marijuana or other drugs. It is not unusual for law enforcement officials to try and work out a deal with the person facing drug charges that would reduce a sentence in exchange for information on other participants in the trafficking. Without these supposed connections, though, what can a person expect at a trial?

The answer may be surprising. A first-time offender charged with drug trafficking may face more serious and lengthy penalties than a person who is a repeat or well-known offender. This is because a first-time offender likely has not developed any significant knowledge of additional criminal activity that may interest police officers. On the other hand, a powerful player in drug rings may strike a deal to get a more lenient sentence in exchange for information.

In one case, a 56-year-old woman was sentenced to life in prison for a first-time drug offense. She was convicted and sentenced to a longer prison term than many notorious criminals who commit more serious crimes. The woman never touched drugs, never ordered another person to be killed and maintains that she completely innocent.

The woman was part of a business that she believed was shuttling people between Mexico and the United States on buses. In reality, the buses were being stocked with thousands of pounds of cocaine by her partner. Despite her claim of innocence and her lack of a criminal record, a jury found her guilty of drug trafficking. Because she had no information on other criminal activity to share with law enforcement, there were no offers to negotiate the woman's extremely harsh sentence.

Navigating the criminal system in regards to drug charges can be very difficult. With legal support, a person's rights can be protected. In some situations when a person is charged with drug possession or trafficking, there may be ways to reduce a sentence or dismiss some of the charges.

Source: chron.com, "Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life," Dane Schiller, May 10, 2012

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