Drug Trafficking Attorney in Raleigh

A Defense Attorney for Drug Trafficking Charges

North Carolina carries some of the toughest punishments for drug crimes in the nation, and as drug trafficking is seen as one of the most serious drug offenses, the penalties are particularly severe and include mandatory prison time, regardless of your prior criminal record. If you’ve been arrested or are being investigated for drug trafficking, it’s absolutely crucial that you refrain from speaking to any police officers until you have one of our criminal defense attorneys in Raleigh present to represent you and ensure your rights are not infringed upon.  Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the offense, you still have rights that require protection.

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, our main priority is to get the most favorable outcomes for our clients. We have over 60 years of combined experience both as defense attorneys and as prosecutors, which gives us unique insight and knowledge to better serve our clients. When your freedom hangs in the balance, your choice in representation matters.

Put our award-winning legal defense on your side. Call (919) 845-6688 today.

Laws Related to Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking is a type of drug distribution done on a larger scale. While most people think it refers to transport, such as carrying a large amount across state lines or from one city, charges are actually related to the amount of a controlled substance a person is alleged to have in their possession. For example, a person who is accused of having 10 pounds of marijuana, 28 grams of cocaine, or 4 grams of heroin could all lead to being charged with drug trafficking in North Carolina. The prosecution is not obligated to prove the accused party was planning on transporting or distributing the controlled substance, they only have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had the specific amount in their possession.

Drug Trafficking Thresholds:

  • 10 pounds of marijuana
  • 28 grams of cocaine
  • 28 grams of methamphetamine
  • 4 grams of opium or heroin
  • 100 units of LSD
  • 28 grams of MDMA
  • 4 grams of Fentanyl
  • 10 grams of Fentanyl analogue (an illegally manufactured drug designed to mimic Fentanyl)

Drug Trafficking Penalties in North Carolina

Prior to 2019, North Carolina had minimum sentencing laws for people convicted of drug trafficking, but recent legislation passed gives judges more discretion in sentencing where non-violent drug crimes are committed. For example, someone caught with 3.75 grams of heroin could be convicted of possession of a schedule I controlled substance, a Class I felony,  and sentenced to up to 12 months in prison. However, if they have four grams of heroin, which is the threshold for trafficking, they could be convicted of a Class F felony and a mandatory sentence of 70 months in prison and a $50,000 fine. 

Today, judges have more discretion in how they sentence offenders who meet specific criteria. However, a conviction of drug trafficking is always a felony and can still lead to harsh penalties and life-long consequences. Sentences are dependent upon the drug itself and how much a person has in their possession. 

Let’s compare a few examples of someone convicted of trafficking marijuana versus trafficking heroin, assuming no prior record and presumptive sentencing without aggravated or mitigating circumstances.


  • 10 – 49 lbs: Class H felony, up to 39 months in prison and a $5,000 fine;
  • 50 – 1,999 lbs: Class G felony, up to 47 months in person and a $25,000 fine;
  • 2,000 – 9,999 lbs: Class F felony, up to 59 months in prison and a $50,000 fine. 
  • 10,000+ lbs: Class D felony, up to 204 months in prison and a $200,000 fine


  • 4 – 13 grams: Class F felony, up to 59 months in prison and a $50,000 fine;
  • 14 – 27 grams: Class E felony, up to 88 months in prison and a 100,000 fine;
  • 28 grams+: Class C felony, 231 months in prison and a $500,00 fine.

Federal Drug Trafficking Laws

While the state has harsh penalties related to drug trafficking, it is also a federal crime to manufacture, distribute, or possess controlled substances and the penalties for doing so are often more severe than state sentencing. For example, trafficking 100 grams of heroin could lead to 40 years in prison if convicted by a federal court. 

Common Questions about Federal Drug Trafficking

Federal drug trafficking is a very serious crime. If you are charged with federal drug trafficking, you will need legal representation that is experienced and knowledgeable in this area of the law. Federal cases are more complex and carry significantly longer sentences than state cases; therefore, they are more difficult to defend. When you are facing a federal drug trafficking charge, you need an attorney who is admitted to practice law  in federal court and has a team who is available to do the research and preparation that is required.

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law, Attorney Bill Finn is a federal drug trafficking lawyer in Raleigh who represents clients in the Eastern District of North Carolina. We have put together some of the most frequently asked questions regarding federal drug trafficking in order for you to be informed.

What is Federal Drug Trafficking?

Drug trafficking is selling, transporting, and/or importing illegal drugs. This is also known as drug distribution. It is a federal crime, which means that the laws are decided by Congress and apply to the entire nation. Under federal law, Title 21, Section 841 makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.”

Is Drug Trafficking a Federal Offense?

Drug trafficking is both a federal and a state offense. Most of the time the states maintain jurisdiction and try the cases in state court. However, the federal government gets involved when there are certain factors, such as:

  • Large quantities of drugs
  • A federal officer made the arrest (for example, a federal wildlife agency officer made an arrest for drugs at a national park)
  • Large quantities of drugs moved from one jurisdiction to another
  • Drug cases involving large amounts of money or money laundering
  • Deaths outside the state’s jurisdiction
  • Drug cases involving Medicare or Medicaid fraud
  • Wide-scale interstate illegal prescription schemes

According to the American Bar Association, 

“Prosecutors more frequently may pursue charges in the system of their choice. And the choice between the systems matters enormously because a several gaps exists between federal and state sentencing. Roughly speaking, federal sentences are tougher than state sentences for more overlapping crimes.”

What Is Drug Trafficking in the United States?

Drug trafficking is also known as drug distribution. It is the crime of selling, transporting, or illegally importing unlawful controlled substances such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or other illegal drugs. For information on the First Step Act in North Carolina and its applicability to a federal drug trafficking charge, read our article “Does the First Step Act Apply to Your Drug Trafficking Case?

How Much Drugs Does It Take to be Considered Drug Trafficking?

Under federal sentencing guidelines, drug trafficking offenses are generated when a defendant is in possession of more than a specific amount of a prohibited substance. This amount differs depending on the substance. For example, a person will be charged with drug trafficking if in possession of:

  • 1 or more grams of LSD (lysergic acid diethylmide)
  • 5 or more grams of crack cocaine
  • 500 or more grams of powdered cocaine
  • 100 or more grams of heroin

Individuals who possess amounts below the minimum amount for drug trafficking can face possession charges with substantially lower penalties.

What Types of Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Federal Drug Trafficking

Many types of controlled substances can result in federal drug trafficking charges. The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), which provides yearly data on federal criminal sentences, reported that more than 95% of all federal drug trafficking charges involve one of these types of substances:

  • Methamphetamine
  • Powder cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Crack cocaine
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl

What is the Federal Drug Trafficking Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the amount of time the federal government has to bring charges against you for an alleged offense. Generally, non-capital offenses, including drug trafficking charges, have a five-year statute of limitations under federal law (18 U.S. Code § 3282). The time begins on the date the offense was allegedly committed. Going forward, the federal government needs to prosecute, try, or punish a person for drug trafficking within that five-year period. When the time runs out, you cannot be prosecuted for that specific drug trafficking offense.

What is the Drug Trafficking Sentencing Guidelines

Federal drug trafficking penalties vary depending on the type of drug, the quantities trafficked, and how many offenses. For example, for first offenses:

  • Cocaine (Schedule II) – 500-4999 grams mixture, first offense brings no less than 5 years and no more than 40 years.
  • Cocaine (Schedule II) – 5 kgs or more mixture, first offense brings no less than 10 years and not more than life.
  • Fentanyl (Schedule II) – 40 – 399 grams mixture, first offense brings no less than 5 years and no more than 40 years.
  • Heroin (Schedule I) – 100 – 999 grams mixture, first offense brings no less than 5 years and no more than 40 years.
  • Methamphetamine (Schedule II) – 5 – 49 grams pure or 50 – 499 grams mixture, first offense brings no less than 5 years and no more than 40 years.
  • PCP (Schedule II) – 10 – 99 grams pure or 100 – 999 grams mixture, first offense brings no less than 5 years and no more than 40 years.

State sentencing guidelines in North Carolina differ from federal ones. Refer to our article “Minimum Penalties for First-Time Drug Trafficking Offenders in North Carolina” for more information. 

What Type of Attorney Do You Need for Federal Drug Trafficking Charges?

When you have been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking in North Carolina, you will need to find an experienced federal crime defense lawyer. A federal crime is more complex and carries more severe penalties and consequences than a state crime. Only an attorney who is familiar with the federal laws and can be admitted into a federal court will give you the best assistance in protecting your rights.

Call Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Today When Charged with Drug Trafficking

If you have been arrested for federal drug trafficking, you are facing serious charges. You must contact an experienced criminal defense team as soon as possible. Our drug defense lawyers will know how to analyze your case to see how best to defend you. Our attorneys at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh are exactly the drug crime lawyers you need. Call us at (919) 845-6688 or complete our free case review contact form.

At Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh, we represent clients in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Middle District of North Carolina, and we bring the same dedication and experience to federal settings as we do for local cases.