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Caught Sending or Receiving Drugs Through Mail

What Happens if I’m Caught Sending or Receiving Drugs Through USPS?

Sending mail through the United States Post Office (USPS) has been a common way to send items back and forth for fifty years. If you are planning on sending gifts for a holiday, or just items to a friend or family member, it is common to use this method. But what happens if you use the USPS to send mail that contains illegal substances?

Although marijuana is considered legal in certain states across the United States, mailing a package containing drugs is a serious offense. In fact, even though marijuana is legal or decriminalized in many states, if you are caught mailing it through USPS, it will be deemed drug trafficking. This situation may arise for Floridians visiting states where marijuana is legal, who seek to send items containing marijuana back to Florida.

Florida is extremely strict when it comes to drug trafficking, and you could potentially face felony charges. It does not matter where you ship the illegal substances to—your home, a friend’s home, a place of business—if the police are able to track and find out who sent and received the package, all parties can face serious charges.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a drug trafficking crime, you may be in need of a drug defense attorney in Florida.

Drug Trafficking in Florida and the USPS

Drug trafficking can happen in a variety of ways. Along with driving drugs across state lines, one way that people may attempt to move drugs is through the mail. One of the main reasons a person may attempt to transport drugs via mail is because of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects the rights “of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and this protection  “shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

Under the USPS Inspection Service inspection guidelines, first-class letters and packages are protected under the Fourth Amendment. This means that they cannot be searched or seized. The only way that an item sent through USPS can be seized and searched is with a search warrant. If there is probable cause to believe that a letter or package contains something that is in violation of federal law, then the Postal Inspectors can request a search warrant to open the piece of mail.

Marijuana is the most commonly-seized drug, and a study reported that in just 2014, 39,301 pounds of marijuana were seized by inspectors.

If there is suspicion of drug trafficking, what happens first is that the package is ‘seized’ – meaning that it is taken out of its normal mail cycle for the authorities to review. Then it is likely that a drug dog will examine the package. If the dog alerts that something suspicious is in the package, then a warrant would be issued to open it.

If drugs are found in the package, it is likely that there will be a “controlled delivery” where an undercover police officer dresses as the mailman and delivers the package. If the person who answers at the receiving address accepts the package, then they are taken in by authorities.

There is a list of factors based on the case US v. Angel Colon that has been created to determine whether the package should be seized, which include the following:

  • The use of Express Mail
  • How much the package weighs
  • The package has been sent from Puerto Rico (a known drug source location)
  • The package was sent from an address outside of the zip code of the return address
  • The name of the sender does not match the return address
  • The package has been heavily taped

Penalties for Mailing Drugs

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a federal entity. This means that if there an illegal act is committed through the USPS system, it is classified as a felony. Both the drug sender and recipient will face penalties. If the recipient was aware that the package contained illicit substances, then they are considered just as guilty as the person who mailed it. In some cases, the recipient can even get charged with drug trafficking in both the state the drugs were mailed from, as well as from the state in which it was received.

Section 893.03 of the Florida Statutes covers controlled substances and explains how controlled substances are classified into different categories known as Schedules. Section 893.13 of the Florida Statutes outlines the punishments for selling, manufacturing, delivering, and possessing with the intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver controlled substances categorized as Schedule I, II, III, IV, and V.  Furthermore, Section 893.135 of the Florida Statutes codifies drug trafficking charges. Although legal penalties vary based on the type and amount of drugs being trafficked, generally speaking, a drug trafficking felony charge in the first degree would result in a penalty of up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

For example, marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug, meaning the law recognizes a high potential for abuse. If you are caught accepting a mail delivery containing over 20 grams of marijuana, the penalty would be a third-degree felony, which could result in five years in state prison and up to a $5,000 fine. If the amount of marijuana is higher, or the drug is more dangerous–such as cocaine or heroin–then the penalties will be even more severe. You can read about the specific penalties for each type of controlled substance being trafficked here.

What Drugs are Commonly Sent via Mail?

The following is a list of controlled substances commonly seized from drug packages in the United States:

What About Private Shipping Companies like FedEx and UPS?

USPS is not the only means of shipping drugs in the United States. Both FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS) are companies that ship domestically and internationally. It is not uncommon for people to attempt to mail drugs using these sources. Regardless of the company itself, under 21 U.S. Code 841, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess with the intent to distribute any controlled substances or drugs.

USPS, FedEx, and UPS all have policies for dealing with the shipment of illicit substances. For example, FedEx policy prohibits shipping “[a]ny item otherwise prohibited by federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.” If you are caught attempting to ship any illegal items listed by FedEx, then you would likely face Florida drug charges. Under FedEx’s terms of service, there is a full list of prohibited items, which includes marijuana, controlled substances, and any substance that has not been approved for medical use by the DEA. UPS states that they will not transfer any goods or items that are prohibited by any federal, state, or local government law. UPS’ list of prohibited items includes marijuana, vape products, and any other substance prohibited under the law.

If either private shipping company believes there is a suspicious package, they have the right to contact the police or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for review. Typically, a law enforcement officer will use the assistance of a K9 drug dog to investigate the package. A common practice by both FedEx and UPS in the case of a suspicious package assumed to carry illegal drugs is to have a law enforcement officer partake in a “controlled delivery.” Where the police officer would go undercover as a FedEx or UPS driver and deliver the package to the marked address. If the recipient accepts the package, an arrest can be made. The penalties for drugs mailed through FedEx and UPS are dependent on the type and weight of illicit substances within the package. For more information on drug charges and specific penalties, read here.

What About Prescription Drugs?

Under Federal law, it is illegal to mail any prescription drugs or pills. The only way around this is to register as an eligible entity approved by the DEA. If your registration has been approved, then you are allowed to ship the prescription drugs through the mail. However, without the acceptance of the DEA’s registration, you can face criminal charges for the misuse of prescription medicine.

Defenses for Drugs Sent via Mail

In order to figure out a viable strategy for a defense in a case dealing with drug trafficking via mail, it is important to understand the specific circumstances of the case. Potential defenses include:

  • Lack of evidence
  • Fabricated evidence
  • Flawed testimony
  • Entrapment

One important thing to remember is that in order to get a conviction for mailing or trafficking drugs, the prosecution needs the evidence to be solid. Without convincing incriminating evidence, it is more difficult for the prosecution to have a strong case against you.

The best way to ensure you have a solid defense for your case is to reach out to an experienced defense attorney in your area.

Example Case of the Drugs Not Belonging to the Recipient

What happens if the drugs do not belong to you? While it can be difficult to convince law enforcement that the package shipped to your home with your name on it is not yours, it doesn’t mean it is impossible. There are in fact cases where someone has received drugs in the mail by mistake.

For one Florida woman, she received an unexpected delivery after ordering shipping bins on Amazon. Although she did not wish to be named due to safety reasons, the news report indicated that a local woman and her husband opened their Amazon shipping bins to find 65 pounds of marijuana.

The woman claimed that they felt something wasn’t right when they received the order, that the containers had an extremely strong odor and were much heavier than they should have been. As soon as the couple opened the bins, they found a large amount of marijuana and immediately called the police. The anonymous woman told a local station: “[w]hen the first officer got here, she was in disbelief.”

The police were able to seize the drugs from the couple and open an investigation, however, there were never any answers from Amazon. After the couple went back and forth with Amazon for over a month, they only received a $150 gift card and were never connected with a supervisor to discuss the issue. The shipping bins were sent from the Amazon shipping facility in Massachusetts.

With no answers about where the marijuana came from, the Florida couple was concerned for their safety. “We were still pretty fearful our home would be broken into, and we didn’t sleep there for a few days,” said the woman. The authorities investigated the case, and neither the husband nor wife were arrested.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting accused of having drugs on your person is no small issue. If you have been accused of a drug crime involving possession, selling, trafficking, or distributing, call a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all over the state of Florida for drug charges. They understand what it takes to defend your case and are willing to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 today or send an online message and receive a free consultation regarding your case with an attorney in our team.

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