Drug Trafficking Charges in SC – Elements and Penalties

What is drug trafficking in SC?

It may not be what you think – it doesn’t necessarily mean narco-traffickers flying in hundreds of kilos of cocaine on a small airplane, and you don’t have to cross state lines to be charged with trafficking in SC.

Johnny Gardner Law has extensive experience handling drug trafficking charges for clients in Myrtle Beach, Conway, and the Grand Strand area, including jury trials, plea negotiations, and pretrial motions to exclude evidence due to constitutional violations.

What are the Elements of Drug Trafficking Charges in SC?

What does the State need to prove to convict someone of a drug trafficking charge?

SC Code Section 44-53-370(e) says that:

Any person who knowingly sells, manufactures, cultivates, delivers, purchases, or brings into this State, or who provides financial assistance or otherwise aids, abets, attempts, or conspires to sell, manufacture, cultivate, deliver, purchase, or bring into this State, or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession or who knowingly attempts to become in actual or constructive possession of…

…drugs above the threshold weight can be convicted of trafficking in SC.

This means that drug trafficking charges can be based on:

  • Drug sales,
  • Drug manufacturing (growing marijuana or cooking meth, for example),
  • Purchasing the drugs,
  • Delivering the drugs or bringing them into the state,
  • Conspiracy,
  • Actual possession, or
  • Constructive possession.

Drug Trafficking Charges are Always Based on Weight

In all cases, drug trafficking charges are based on the weight of the drugs involved – for example, if you are found with more than ten pounds of marijuana, you will be charged with trafficking in marijuana. If you conspire to purchase more than ten grams of cocaine, you will be charged with trafficking in cocaine.

Drug Trafficking Charges Based on Possession

In most cases, drug trafficking charges are based on possession, whether it is actual possession or constructive possession.

For example, if your vehicle is searched during a traffic stop, and the officer finds more than four grams of heroin in the trunk, you will be charged with trafficking in heroin based on constructive possession.

If your pockets are searched, and the officer finds more than ten grams of crack/ cocaine base, you will be charged with trafficking in crack cocaine based on actual possession.

If an undercover agent or confidential informant makes purchases from you at your home, police return with an arrest warrant for distribution and a search warrant, and they find 20 pounds of marijuana in the house, you will be charged with 1) distribution and 2) trafficking in marijuana.

Drug Trafficking Charges Based on Distribution

If you sell drugs to an undercover agent or CI, and the amount of drugs sold is more than the threshold weight for trafficking, you can be charged trafficking based on distribution. Note that the potential penalties for drug trafficking are usually more severe than the penalties for distribution.

Drug Trafficking Charges Based on Manufacturing

If you are operating a marijuana grow house in your home, police enter with a search warrant, and they find more than 100 pounds of marijuana plants, you can then be charged with trafficking in marijuana based on manufacturing.

Drug Trafficking Charges Based on Conspiracy

Drug trafficking in SC can also be proven by conspiracy.

Conspiracy means an agreement between two or more people to commit an unlawful act – if I ask you to sell me drugs, and you agree, we are now engaged in a conspiracy. In more complex situations, where multiple dealers are buying drugs from one or more sources, you can be convicted of conspiracy when you don’t even know some of the alleged co-conspirators.

This means that you can be charged with trafficking, and you could be looking at decades behind bars just because you made a phone call to set up a drug deal that involves more than the threshold weight for trafficking, even if you never saw the drugs and never made the deal

Drug Trafficking in SC: Potential Penalties

The potential penalties for drug trafficking in SC are harsh – they can be more severe than many other states’ trafficking laws and include mandatory minimum sentences of as much as 25 years. The most severe penalties for trafficking in heroin are as high as 40 years in prison.

Most drug trafficking offenses in SC are also categorized as violent offenses, no-parole offenses, and they are 85% offenses. This means you cannot get paroled, and you cannot get released to community supervision until you have served at least 85% of the total sentence.

Trafficking in Marijuana

1 – 100 pounds:

  • First offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of one year and up to ten years in prison,
  • Second offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of five years and up to 20 years in prison, and
  • Third offense: A mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison.

100 – 2000 pounds: A mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

2000 – 10,000 pounds: A mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

10,000 pounds or more: A mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years and up to 30 years in prison.

Trafficking in Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, or Meth

10 – 28 grams:

  • First offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of three years and up to 10 years in prison,
  • Second offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of five years and up to 30 years in prison, and
  • Third offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years and up to 30 years in prison.

Trafficking in Heroin

4 – 14 grams:

  • First offense: A mandatory minimum sentence of seven years and up to 25 years in prison, and
  • Second offense or greater: A mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison.

14 – 28 grams: A mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison.

28 grams or more: A mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years and up to 40 years in prison.

Changes in SC Drug Trafficking Laws

The SC legislature has introduced bills to reduce the mandatory minimum sentences and the 85% requirement for some drug offenses, although it has not yet been signed into law. There is also a movement to increase the penalties for trafficking in fentanyl due to the recent surge in fentanyl-based overdoses in SC and across the country.

If you have found this article and you need an accurate overview of the penalties for drug trafficking offenses in SC, you should check to see if these laws have passed and if there have been changes in SC drug trafficking laws since June of 2021.

Drug Trafficking Lawyers in Conway, SC

Attorney Johnny Gardner has over twenty years of trial experience defending misdemeanors and felonies in SC courtrooms, including drug crimes like drug possession, possession with intent to distribute, drug distribution, and drug trafficking.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe you are under investigation in SC, contact criminal defense Lawyer Johnny Gardner today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.