How to Beat a Felony Drug Charge in Minnesota?

Conviction for a drug crime can result in extreme consequences. Often, a lot of students and young professionals with a bright future ahead of them get convicted for a felony drug charge. The felony can not only result in imprisonment, but become a lifelong stain in your record that greatly impacts your present and future.

Potential penalties for felony drug charges can be severe. It is, therefore, crucial to fight against any type of felony drug charge of which you have been accused.

Minnesota recently modified its drug laws to introduce a separate sentencing framework for drug-related crimes, rather than going by the standard felony sentencing guidelines.

Working with an experienced Minnesota drug crime attorney can be extremely beneficial as we are aware of the legal amendments as well as the tactics applicable to your unique case. Accordingly, we can prepare a watertight plan of action to defend you.

Felony Drug Charge in Minnesota

Felony drug charges in Minnesota can include possession of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, crack, and other narcotics, including prescription drugs. Simple possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is considered an infraction. But, the possession of over one pound of marijuana or any amount of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrate or hashish is considered a felony.

Most often, when an individual is found with an illegal drug on their person, they are arrested and charged with a felony. However, not everyone caught possessing narcotics gets criminally convicted of a felony drug charge. Each case is different and the penalty and outcomes are determined based on the various circumstantial factors involved.

Major drug crimes usually involve either the possession or the sale of drugs, including possession with intent to sell. Under Minnesota’s controlled substance laws, penalties for drug crimes depend on whether the offense falls under the first, second, third, fourth or fifth degree. 

First-degree drug crimes are the most serious, and hence, attract the most severe penalties. However, even a fifth degree offense is a felony nonetheless and comes with certain consequences. It is important to avoid a conviction whenever possible.

Mentioned below are some of the crimes that fall under each degree category, from the least severe to the most, and the associated penalties:

Fifth Degree

This includes the possession of any amount of Schedule I through IV drugs, except 42.5 grams or less of marijuana. It also includes the sale of or intent to sell marijuana or other Schedule IV drug, except the transfer of small amounts of marijuana without payment. 

Penalties: Fifth degree drug crimes can result in up to five years’ imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Fourth Degree

These offenses include the possession of 10 or more doses of a hallucinogen, as well as possession with intent to sell a Schedule I, II or III controlled substance. It also includes the sale of Schedule I, II or III substances, as well as sale of Schedule IV drugs to minors. 

Penalties: Fourth degree drug crimes can result in up to 15 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $100,000.

Third Degree

These drug offenses can include the possession of at least three grams of heroin, 10 grams of other narcotics, 10 kilograms of marijuana, and five doses of Schedule I or II narcotics near a school, park, or public housing. It further includes the sale of narcotics, five or more kilograms of marijuana, 10 doses of a hallucinogen, and Schedule I or II substance to a minor.

Penalties: Third degree drug crimes can result in up to 20 years’ imprisonment and up to $250,000 in fines.

Second Degree

These include the possession of at least 25 grams of cocaine or methamphetamines, six grams of heroin, 50 grams of other narcotics, 100 doses of a hallucinogen, and 25 kilograms of marijuana or 100 marijuana plants. It also includes the sale of at least three grams of heroin, 10 grams of any other narcotic, 50 doses of a hallucinogen, 10 kilograms of marijuana, and Schedule I or II narcotics to a minor. 

Penalties: Second degree drug crimes can result in up to 30 years’ imprisonment and up to $500,000 in fines.

First Degree

First degree offenses include the possession of at least 25 grams of heroin, 50 grams of cocaine or methamphetamines, and 50 kilograms of marijuana or 500 marijuana plants. Further, it includes the sale of at least 10 grams of heroin, 17 grams of cocaine or methamphetamines, 50 grams of other narcotics, 25 kilograms of marijuana, and 200 doses of hallucinogens.

Penalties: First degree drug crimes are the most serious and can result in up to 30 years’ imprisonment and up to $1 million in fines. 

Dealing with Felony Drug Charges in Minnesota

Ask any drug crime lawyer in Minnesota, and they will tell you that no two drug cases are the same. No lawyer can guarantee that they will beat your charges without reviewing your case facts. However, the following pointers will help you understand the kind of defenses that can be used to fight the charges against you.  

The Search for Drugs Was Illegal

The first thing that Minnesota drug crime lawyers consider is whether or not the drugs in question were retrieved through a legal search. If the law authorities conducted an illegal search of your home or car, the evidence obtained can be questioned because any evidence procured from an illegal search or seizure is not considered at trial. 

This exclusionary rule states that the police cannot violate any individual’s Constitutional rights. Moreover, the evidence gathered by violating a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights are also considered null-and-void by the court. 

The Lack of Knowledge of the Existence of the Illegal Drugs

Another effective defense used by drug crime lawyers in Minnesota is the lack of knowledge or awareness of the existence of illegal drugs. 

Typically, when illegal drugs are found in a car, everyone in the vehicle is arrested. However, it is challenging for the police to prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt. 

For instance, if the police stops a car with three riders and drugs are discovered in one rider’s wallet, it is possible that the other two riders were unaware of its presence. The government needs to prove that the persons knowingly possessed the illegal drug, which can be quite difficult if the accused’s lawyer puts up a strong defense. 

The Lack of or Inadequate Proof

If there is no or inadequate proof that the substance found is, in fact, an illegal drug, the drug crime charges cannot be established. For conviction to occur, the government has to prove that the alleged illegal substance is actually the drug they claim it to be.

The seized drugs are usually sent for testing to a crime laboratory. In some cases, the samples are lost or destroyed, the equipment isn’t calibrated, and so on. In such cases, an astute Minnesota drug crime attorney can question the results of the test and argue that the government failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the substance obtained was a narcotic. This can potentially get an accused acquitted of the criminal charge.  

Even if your case cannot be dismissed, the charges may be reduced or penalties can be minimized. Numerous details surrounding each case can have a huge impact on the possible outcome. Consulting a reputed Minnesota drug crime lawyer is a must to determine what course of action is appropriate in your specific case.


A felony drug conviction can have an adverse impact on your life. Apart from facing lasting detrimental consequences, you can end up behind bars or paying exorbitant fines or both. 

At Carlson & Jones P.A., our Minnesota drug crime attorney can help you by protecting your rights and fighting the charges levied, thereby abating or even eliminating the potential penalties you face. With our powerful legal defense on your side, you can look forward to positive outcomes in your case. 

Depend on Our Minnesota Drug Crime Lawyer for Aggressive Representative

For more information, call us for a free consultation at (855) 976-2444 or contact us online. We will be happy to hear your side of the story and help you by doing what we do best!


Originally published on July 6, 2020 and updated on September 16, 2021.

Do You Know How to Beat a Drug Trafficking Charge in Minnesota?

Drug trafficking or drug distribution refers to manufacturing, selling, moving, or importing illegal drugs. It is often confused with drug possession, but these are two different types of drug crimes. Drug trafficking is considered a federal crime as well as a felony crime in Minnesota.

Is drug trafficking a violent crime? A drug trafficking charge in Minnesota can have serious repercussions on the accused’s life, especially if the case involves a conviction. Often, prosecutors seek maximum penalties in such cases in the wake of increased drug usage plaguing the country.

If you or your loved one has been charged with or are suspected of drug trafficking, you should ensure that you’re adequately prepared to tackle the accusation, while protecting your rights. Working with a reputed drug crime lawyer is always a good idea.

It is important to realize that there are no guarantees to beat any drugs-related charge, and every case is different. Most seasoned lawyers fight hard to try and save the day for their clients.

A Quick Overview of Drug Crime Laws in Minnesota

Usually, federal and state prosecutors can levy drug trafficking charges when they believe that controlled substances have been sold, imported, or moved around. In most cases, these charges involve drugs such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. US drug crime statistics reveal that, “Between 2011 and 2015, there was an almost 50% increase in the number of people sentenced for crimes related to heroin trafficking in the U.S.”

A drug trafficking charge can also extend to the unlawful distribution of prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills, pain killers, or products containing hydrocodone, oxycodone, and pharmaceutical opiates.

Often, drug possession charges tend to escalate to trafficking because of the amount of substance found on the accused. This means that a person found with controlled substances even for personal use may have to deal with trafficking charges, and the associated legal sentences. So, someone who may have been found with large quantities of drugs on his/her person for personal use might end up facing a decades-long prison sentence.

In Minnesota, the following drug amounts can trigger trafficking charges:

  • 25+ grams of heroin, meth, or cocaine
  • 100+ grams of cannabis
  • 500+ grams or 500+ doses of amphetamine, hallucinogens, or phencyclidine
  • 500+ grams of any other narcotic

Any Minnesota drug crime attorney will tell you that the consequences for drug charges are extremely severe. The state laws here oversee penalties in keeping with the type and quantity of drugs involved, area of distribution, and whether or not children were targeted.

Minnesota Trafficking Charges

Drug trafficking is defined in Chapter 152 of the Minnesota Statutes. A drug trafficking charge can be brought against you if you have been accused of manufacturing or distributing an illegal controlled substance, or if you have been found possessing a large quantity of the substance that exceeds the estimated quantity for personal use.

Sentences for drug trafficking typically range between three and five years to life imprisonment but can be considerably higher when large quantities are involved. In extreme cases, where large amounts of drugs are involved, the accused can be charged with a first-degree felony, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 40 years. More on drug trafficking penalties later.

  • Drug Manufacturing Charges

Manufacturing methamphetamines is a first-degree narcotics offense. First-degree drug crimes incur the highest penalties.

  • Drug Possession Charges

Possession of illegal narcotics can be a first-, second-, third-, fourth-, or fifth-degree drug offense.

Possessing any amount of a Schedule I, II, III, or IV drug (excepting cannabis amounts not exceeding 42.5 grams) is a fifth-degree drug crime. The best drug crime defense attorneys in Minnesota can negotiate fifth-degree drug charges down in some cases. You may be able to get a gross misdemeanor drug possession charge if:

  • It’s your first drug conviction
  • You’re arrested with less than 0.25 grams of any narcotic
  • You’re arrested with less than .05 grams of heroin


Possession of any amount of a Schedule I, II, or III drug with intent to sell is a fourth-degree offense. These offenses may bring about trafficking charges, too.

Depending on how many grams you possess upon your arrest, you could get a trafficking charge for third-degree possession. Third-degree possession charges include having more than three grams of heroin, 15 kilograms or more of cannabis, and over 10 grams of any other controlled substance.

Possession of 25+ grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, 6+ grams of heroin, 100 doses of a hallucinogen, 25+ kilograms of cannabis or 100 cannabis plants, and 50+ grams of any other controlled narcotic can earn you a second-degree charge.

Having a dangerous weapon when arrested can also advance the offense to a second-degree charge. A drug possession lawyer can help you avoid this consequence and the higher penalties associated with a second-degree drug charge.

First-degree drug charges are the most serious. Possession of 50+ grams of methamphetamine or cocaine, 25+ grams of heroin, 500+ doses of hallucinogens, 50+ kilograms of cannabis, and 500+ grams of any other controlled narcotic are first-degree drug crimes.

  • Drug Sale Charges

The sale of illegal drugs can also be a first- through fifth-degree drug crime in Minnesota.

Fifth-degree narcotics offenses include the sale of any amount of cannabis or Schedule IV drugs.

Selling any amount of a Schedule I, II, or III drug automatically triggers a fourth-degree drug charge. Selling a Schedule IV or V drug to a minor is also a fourth-degree offense. Further, fourth-degree charges are common with the sale of any amount of cannabis at a school, park, public housing, or rehab facility.

In Minnesota, it’s a third-degree narcotics offense to sell any amount of cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin. It’s also a third-degree crime to sell 5kg or more of cannabis, any amount of other controlled narcotics, or any Schedule I, II, or III drugs to minors.

Second-degree drug offenses include the sale of 17+ grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, 3+ grams of heroin, 10+ kilograms of cannabis, and 10+ grams of any other controlled substance.

Selling 17+ grams of meth or cocaine, 10+ grams of heroin, 200+ doses of hallucinogens, 25+ kilograms of cannabis, or 50+ grams of any other controlled narcotic is a first-degree offense.

Federal Drug Trafficking Charges

Minnesota brings drug trafficking charges on in-state offenses. But as soon as drugs cross over state lines, the government can charge you with a Federal drug trafficking offense.


Drug Trafficking Penalties

In Minnesota, punishments for drug trafficking convictions depend on multiple factors. These factors include which drugs are being trafficked, the amount you’re found in possession of, and any prior drug-related convictions on your record.


Penalties for drug trafficking also increase with aggravating factors. Using or possessing a weapon can also increase drug trafficking penalties.

Minnesota Drug Trafficking Prison Sentences and Fines


The prison sentences served and fines paid in drug trafficking cases depend on the degree of the offense.


First-degree trafficking charges are felonies and come with up to 30 years in prison, up to $1 million in fines, or both. Having prior convictions can increase your punishment. For example, if it’s your second first-degree drug charge, you can earn 4–40 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.


If you’re found with 100 grams or more of an illegal substance, Minnesota enforces a 65-month mandatory minimum prison sentence.


Second-degree trafficking can earn offenders up to 25 years in prison and/or a $500,000 fine. Upon your second second-degree conviction, you’ll have to serve a three-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, pay a $500,000 fine, or both. Total prison sentences go up to 40 years for second-time offenses.


A third-degree trafficking charge can get offenders up to 30 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Fourth-degree trafficking offenses come with 15 years in prison, up to $100,000 in fines, or both. And fifth-degree drug felons with sale convictions can spend up to five years in prison and/or pay a fine of up to $10,000.

Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties


Trafficking drugs across state lines is a serious felony. The state of Minnesota can order these traffickers to spend up to 35 years in prison, pay $1.25 million in fines, or both. Federal penalties for transporting drugs across state lines include $5 million in fines and 5–40 years in Federal prison.


Defending a Drug Trafficking Charge in Minnesota

Considering the above penalties, you don’t want a drug trafficking charge on your record. That’s why you need the best drug crime defense lawyer on your side. Experienced drug crime attorneys in Minnesota employ the following commonly-used defenses to help their clients in attempting to beat a drug trafficking charge.


  • Illegal Search and Seizure

Law enforcement authorities need to have probable cause before searching through your personal property to check for possession of illegal drugs. If they did not have a valid warrant or probable cause, it means they violated your Constitutional rights, in which case, your charges may be reduced or dismissed altogether.

  • Miranda Violation

Any statement by you on your drug trafficking charge cannot be used against you in court if it was obtained when you were placed under arrest and weren’t familiarized with your right to remain silent. As per the American Constitution, providing any answer to unwarned police questions can be avoided.

  • Mistake of Fact

You can defend your charges by stating that you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And because of this, you were mistaken for the actual offender. This defense can be especially effective if the evidence presented fails to prove that you were involved in the crime in the first place.

  • The Lack of Intent

The drug trafficking charge levied against you is rooted in your (or the defendant’s) intent to distribute the controlled substances. The charge may carry no weight if this intent cannot be proven.

For example, suppose you have no knowledge of drugs found in your vehicle. In that case, Minnesota can’t bring drug trafficking charges against you.

  • The Lack of Knowledge

When defending your drug trafficking charge, you can also state that you lacked the knowledge that the drugs were on your person to begin with. For instance, you may have been asked to drive a car or a delivery truck from one place to another, without you knowing that the vehicle contained a package of heroin.

  • Challenging Proof of Substance

This defense can be employed to refute state-presented evidence. While the state may allege that the substance found in your possession is a controlled substance or an illegal drug, it need not necessarily be so. The state will have to prove to the court that the substance is a drug through scientific evidence. You can then proceed to question the reliability of drug testing with the aim of either suppressing the evidence presented in court or creating doubts on the certainty of said evidence.

  • Not Meant for Human Consumption

This defense can work if the material in question is not drugs, but more like cannabinoids used in the production of skin creams. Proving this will render your drug trafficking charge baseless, and it will likely be dropped.

  • Duress

If you can prove that you were trafficking drugs under the threat of you or your family being harmed if you didn’t do so, you may find relief in your case.

  • Suppression of Pre-trial Identification

This is a slightly complex one and requires thorough knowledge of the law as well as the Constitution, which does not allow vague and unreliable identification processes. With the help of this defense, law enforcement authorities can be stopped from identifying you (the defendant) in court by proving that the identification procedures (mugshots, witness photos) used by the police were unreliable to begin with.

Consult Our Drug Crime Lawyer in Minnesota for a Positive Outcome

It is crucial for you or any individual who has been charged with drug trafficking to let neither the police nor the judiciary intimidate them. Most importantly, you should never give up hope and remember that you are going to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

The above time-tested defenses are used by most Minnesota drug crime attorneys when defending their clients in drug trafficking cases. If you find yourself in tricky waters, make sure to consult a qualified and experienced lawyer at the earliest.

Call us for a free consultation at (855) 976-2444 today or contact us online. We will help you explore every legal option available and applicable to your case, preserve your rights, and get you the just outcome you deserve.


This article was originally published on July 20, 2020 and updated on August 5, 2021.

How Your Jail Release in Minnesota Helps and Impacts Your Case

After more than fifty years, it appears that public support for America’s war on drugs is faltering. A growing number of Wright County jurors see illicit drugs as a health and safety issue, as opposed to a criminal law issue. So, outcomes for a Buffalo MN drug crime lawyer in these cases are changing, particularly in simple possession matters.

Court and Government Response to Drug Crimes in the U.S.

Nevertheless, prosecutors are still very aggressive in this area, especially regarding possession cases. In the 1980s, when the War on Drugs was just heating up, drug arrests were evenly split between possession and distribution matters. Today, simple possession cases make up over 80 percent of all drug arrests. 

Apropos of nothing, the law enforcement climate changed in the early 80s mostly because of Len Bias’ death. According to many, this basketball phenom was as good as Michael Jordan, or maybe better. If you see this kid’s highlight reel, it’s hard to disagree with either assertion. A few hours after the Boston Celtics chose Bias in the first round, he did a line of cocaine at a party, laid down, and died. 

In response, Congress passed a number of laws which, in retrospect, were overly strict. These laws included the controversial mandatory minimum sentencing requirement. A trace amount of cocaine meant a long prison sentence, regardless of the facts. Several decades later, President Barack Obama issued over 1,700 pardons, most of them for harsh drug crime sentences from the late 20th century.

The aforementioned environmental changes (public health v. public safety) give Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyers an even better opportunity to successfully resolve drug possession cases in Wright County. While every matter is different, most follow the same general outline.

Get Out of Jail (Almost) Free in Buffalo MN

A new day is also dawning in terms of jail release, which is always the first priority in a criminal case. The changed political and social climate is a good sign, but pretrial detention creates multiple serious problems for Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyers and their clients. 

Economic Impact of Drug Charges in Buffalo MN

Even a few days behind bars could have an unbelievable economic impact on a Minnesota family. Most people lose their jobs and/or businesses in these situations. Without any way to provide for their families, these individuals often become increasingly desperate. 

The strain on emotional relationships could be even worse than the strain on professional relationships. 

Emotion Impact of Drug Charges in Buffalo MN

Furthermore, incarceration can cause brain injury, which is colloquially known as the “jailhouse blues.” Incarceration triggers the fight-or-flight instinct. People who are behind bars have neither option. So, their stress hormone levels go through the roof. Continued exposure to such hormones alters brain chemistry. Many people know someone who was not the same person when s/he got out of jail as s/he was before. That’s because, from a brain biology standpoint, the person is different.

Perhaps most importantly, many jurors assume if the defendant is in jail, the defendant must have done something wrong. At that point, the drug possession case becomes a criminal law violation which merits punishment, as far as the jury is concerned. In other words, especially in these cases, pretrial detention transforms the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt.

Release on Your Own Recognizance in Buffalo MN

OR (Own Recognizance) release is often an option in nonviolent cases, such as drug possession. Essentially, the defendant promises to appear at trial, and the sheriff releases the defendant. This form of pretrial release has gained significant traction in recent years, as critics have harped on the cash bail system. These critics note that most inmates in county jails are unsentenced. They are simply waiting for trial because they cannot afford bail.

That commonly-cited statistic might be misleading. Many of the incarcerated people have already made bail and are just waiting on their paperwork to clear. Indeed, a number of these individuals probably voluntarily surrendered and are booking in and booking out. They might never make it past the waiting room. Furthermore, a pure OR release program gives judges no discretion in this area. Semi-violent offenders, like stalkers, are right back out on the street, regardless of the facts.

So, complete bail reform, which several states have tried, is pretty much a bust. In New York, the pure OR system lasted less than a year.

Nevertheless, OR is a good option in many cases. The procedure varies slightly in different jurisdictions. Generally, a review board considers the charged offense and the defendant’s criminal record, then gives a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Although there is no formal hearing, a Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer can usually advocate for defendants before review boards, at least informally. This advocacy could be the difference between OR release and a money-based release option.

Traditional Jail Release Options

Cash bail, or a bail bond, is still available in Wright County. Typically, and forgive us if we sound like a broken record, the sheriff sets a presumptive bail amount based on the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the severity of the offense. The presumptive amount is usually around $700 for most misdemeanors and $1,500 for most felonies. The exact amount varies significantly, mostly according to the facts of the case.

Bail Per Charge in Buffalo MN

Also, bail is usually per charge as opposed to per arrest. So, if Dexter faces three felony charges, his bail will probably be a minimum of $4,500. Due to the facts of the case, it will probably be a lot higher than that. Indeed, the sheriff might not even set a presumptive amount in such cases. More on that below.

Cash Bail in Buffalo MN

Financially, cash bail is like a rental property security deposit. If the defendant fulfills all bail conditions, the county refunds most of the cash bail money. In addition to appearing at trial, some other common pretrial release conditions include reporting to a bail bond agent, remaining in the county, and avoiding any further legal trouble.

The cash bail system has been around for thousands of years. Most people value their money above all else. The prospect of losing it is usually sufficient to convince people to toe the line, at least temporarily. The obvious problem with this system is that, for many people, $4,500 might as well be $45 million.

Bail “Bond” in Buffalo MN

So, a bail bond is usually available. Essentially, a bond is an insurance policy. If your car is damaged, your auto insurance company assumes the financial risk. Similarly, if a defendant fails to meet all bond conditions and the judge revokes it, the bail bond company assumes the financial risk. Most bail bonds companies charge about a 15 percent premium to issue these insurance policies.

Bail Revocation in Buffalo MN

Speaking of bail revocation, if the judge revokes your bond, a Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer can help you turn yourself in, as outlined above. Usually, a lawyer has all the ducks in a row, including a new bond. This alternative is much better than having a warrant pop up during a random traffic stop.

In serious cases, such as drug trafficking or felony drug possession cases, cash bail or a bail bond might not be an immediate option. Either the sheriff doesn’t set an amount or the amount is so high that the defendant cannot possibly pay it. A Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer can set or reduce bail at the arraignment, which usually happens about three days after the arrest.

Initial determinations are usually limited to criminal record and nature of the offense. At the arraignment, the judge considers a number of other factors, such as the defendant’s:

  • Links to the community,
  • Ability to skip bail,
  • Threat to individual witnesses or victims,
  • Ability to pay, and
  • Willingness to abide by conditions.

Attorneys usually settle these matters out of court. For example, the prosecutor might agree to reduce the bail amount if the defendant agrees to electronic monitoring.

Procedural Defenses for Drug Crimes in Buffalo MN

Jail release gives a defense attorney a head start. Pretrial release does more than eliminate the presumption of guilt. Release also allows defendants and Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyers to work together as partners. However, there is still a long race to run.

To seal the deal, the case must usually involve a legal defense. A defense gives the jury the legal opportunity to acquit a defendant. So, the better the defense, the riskier trial becomes. That risk increases a Wright County prosecutor’s willingness to deal.

What the 4th Amendment Means

Many drug possession cases involve a procedural defense. Under the Fourth Amendment, officers either need a search warrant or probable cause before they can seize evidence of a crime, including contraband substances. If a Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer excludes the evidence, the state’s case normally collapses like a house of cards. An officer’s testimony that the defendant had drugs is insufficient.

Search Warrants in Buffalo MN

Most drug trafficking cases involve search warrants. Typically, several agencies work together on these arrests, which culminate with a search warrant. Frequently, officers depend, at least in large part, on a confidential informant’s testimony. CIs receive money or leniency in exchange for such testimony. Therefore, a Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer can often successfully challenge drug trafficking search warrants. Many people will say nearly anything for love or money.

Probable Cause Exception

But most drug possession cases don’t involve search warrants. Events happen too quickly. Therefore, the prosecutor must rely on the probable cause exception. Over the years, courts have created a few specific doctrines, such as:

  • Consent: Owners may allow officers to search their property, such as a house or a wallet. Consent is an affirmative, voluntary act. There’s a big difference between assent and consent. Furthermore, if officers threatened to get a warrant if the defendant didn’t agree to the search, that consent is arguably involuntary.
  • Plain View: This exception frequently comes up in vehicle possession cases. If officers see contraband in plain view, like a bottle of prescription painkillers, they may seize it without a warrant. This right is only available if the officer was lawfully in that place at that time. So, reasonable suspicion for the stop, or lack thereof, could be an issue.
  • Stop and Frisk: The reasonable suspicion rule also applies in these stops. Reasonable suspicion means specific, articulable facts which point to criminal activity. In this case, that criminal activity must be illegal weapon possession. During this pat-down, officers can seize any other contraband they see, or rather feel, in plain view, or rather plain touch.

Other Constitutional rights sometimes come into play. Cell phones are a good example. The Supreme Court has ruled that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in all content past the home screen. If officers want to read your text messages or take other such actions, they must either get a warrant or obtain owner consent.

Stingray Devices in Buffalo MN

Incidentally, some Minnesota law enforcement agencies have Stingray devices. These sophisticated gadgets, which are also known as IMSI catchers or cell site simulators, send false signals which trick cell phones into connecting with a fake tower, allowing police to track the owner’s movements. Some Stingrays can read your text messages, call records, Internet search history, and even tap into your phone calls.

Needless to say, these devices are quite controversial, so law enforcement agencies keep their mouths shut about the specifics of the gadgets they own.

Substantive Drug Possession Defenses

The legal definition of possession offers a defense in many cases. Proximity to the drugs, by itself, is not enough. The state must also prove the following elements:

  • Control: Theoretical possession is not enough. Prosecutors must establish that the defendant exercised control over the drugs. The drugs must not have been in a locked container, like a glove compartment, and must not have been in someone else’s possession, such as a joint passed around at a party.
  • Knowledge: This element must be more than theoretical as well. A defendant must know more than “something illegal” is in a bag. As a matter of fact, the defendant can literally be sitting on a stash of drugs, and not possess the stash for legal purposes.

At trial, the prosecutor must establish all elements of possession, and all the other elements of the offense, beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard of proof in Minnesota law.

What is Deferred Disposition in Buffalo MN?

Normally, a Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer files a pretrial motion in disputed possession matters. If the judge rules favorably, the judge will throw the prosecution out of court.

If the defense is strong enough, many prosecutors offer good deals before that hearing. They do not want to risk losing everything because of an adverse judicial ruling. Deferred disposition is usually available in drug possession cases.

Prosecutorial deferred disposition is like pretrial diversion. If the defendant successfully completes program requirements, the prosecutor dismisses the case. Judicial deferred disposition is like probation. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge dismisses the case.

Both these outcomes have significant advantages, but there are significant risks as well. So, before you accept one, review the situation thoroughly with an experienced Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer.

Connect with a Buffalo MN Drug Crime Lawyer

Most drug possession cases have a relatively happy ending. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN drug crime lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.



This original article was published July 17, 2019 and updated June 3, 2021.

What is Drug Trafficking Definition and Defense in MN?

In the seemingly endless War on Drugs, arrests are basically the only measuring stick of victory. High profile drug trafficking arrests are almost sure to attract attention. Arrests often involve large, multi-agency investigations, especially in certain situations. If you’re wondering what is drug trafficking and definition and defense, the answer can get complicated.

Officers invest a lot in drug trafficking cases, so there’s a great deal of pressure on prosecutors when these cases go to court. No lawyer wants to be the guy who let a “drug dealer” go “free.” Usually, federal and state prosecutors can levy drug trafficking charges when they believe that controlled substances have been sold, imported, or moved around. In most cases, these charges involve drugs such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Between 2011 and 2015, heroin trafficking charges increased almost 50 percent.

What is a Drug Trafficking Charge?

A drug trafficking charge can also extend to the unlawful distribution of prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills, painkillers, or products containing hydrocodone, oxycodone, and pharmaceutical opiates. Even if no money changes hands, authorities can press drug trafficking charges. Legally, giving leftover medicine to a friend is as bad as selling it on the street.

Consequences of a Drug Trafficking Charge in Minnesota

Any Minnesota drug crime attorney will tell you that the consequences for drug charges are extremely severe. The state laws here oversee penalties in keeping with the type and quantity of drugs involved, area of distribution, and whether or not children were targeted. Sentences for drug trafficking typically range between three and five years to life imprisonment, but can be considerably higher when large quantities are involved. In extreme cases, where large amounts of drugs are involved, the accused can be charged with a first-degree felony, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 40 years.

An experienced Minnesota drug crime attorney can effectively use one or more defenses to successfully resolve these charges. These charges could hit almost anyone. A drug trafficking charge can be brought against you if you have been accused of manufacturing or distributing an illegal controlled substance, or if you have been found possessing a large quantity of the substance that exceeds the estimated quantity for personal use.

Minnesota Criminal Defense and Jail Release

Prompt jail release is usually the first step toward a successful outcome in a drug trafficking case. That outcome could be a not guilty verdict at trial, a complete dismissal of charges, or a plea to a lesser-included offense, such as drug possession. If jurors learn that the defendant is in jail, most of them assume s/he did something wrong.

The first step of any process is often a very difficult one. Jail release in a drug trafficking case is a good example. Generally, county sheriffs either do not set bail in these cases or set amounts so high that defendants cannot possibly afford them.

At the arraignment, which usually happens about three days after the arrest, a Minnesota drug crime attorney can petition for a bail reduction. Some factors judges consider include:

  • Severity of the offense,
  • Defendant’s criminal record,
  • Amount of evidence against the defendant,
  • Defendant’s links with the community,
  • Any ongoing threat to victims or witnesses, and
  • Defendant’s ability to pay bail.

These factors are much more comprehensive than initial bail determination factors. Usually, county sheriffs only consider the first two bullet points. So, there’s a very good chance that the defendant can get out of jail.

Pretrial release isn’t just important for personal reasons. There are legal reasons as well. Incarceration increases stress hormone levels, and exposure to these hormones causes a brain injury. So, people who are behind bars cannot always think clearly. They are often tempted to accept unfavorable plea bargain agreements so they can “get it over with.”

Possible Defenses in a Drug Trafficking Prosecution

Most criminal cases have both procedural and substantive defenses. Procedural defenses usually involve law enforcement or prosecutor mistakes. Substantive defenses essentially involve a lack of evidence. Drug trafficking cases have both kinds of defenses.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Law enforcement authorities need to have probable cause before searching through your personal property to check for possession of illegal drugs. If they did not have a valid warrant or probable cause, it means they violated your Constitutional rights, in which case, your charges may be reduced or dismissed altogether.

The probable cause in a search warrant almost always involves a Confidential Informant’s testimony. CIs usualyl do not come forward out of the goodness of their hearts. They almost always receive money or leniency. In most cases, the payment is quite high, especially in large drug trafficking investigations.

SInce many people will say virtually anything for love or money, CI testimony is presumptively unreliable, unless the CI has a positive track record or there is some corroborating proof.

WHen these cases go to court, prosecutors cannot argue backwards. They cannot assert that since officers found what they were looking for, the CI’s testimony must have been accurate. Probable cause in a search warrant stands or falls based on the information which was available at the time.

Other drug trafficking arrests involve search warrant exceptions, like consent and plain view. These exceptions are a little more common in possession cases.

Miranda Violation

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the Miranda rights (you have the right to remain silent, etc.). But many people don’t realize how broad these rights are or how quickly they kick in.

The Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent doesn’t just give defendants the right to keep their mouths closed. Defendants also have the right to stay still. They need not perform field sobriety tests, pose for pictures, or appear in lineups.

Peace officers are usually desperate to close cases before the defendant lawyers up. So, people who assert their Fifth Amendment rights face consequences. For example, if suspected drug traffickers do not fully cooperate with police, officers almost always arrest them. But if officers bring you to the station, an arrest is pretty much inevitable anyway.

Despite the intense pressure officers put on defendants to talk, and despite the “promises” officers make, it’s usually best to assert your Fifth Amendment rights in these situations. The state has more than enough ways to obtain a guilty verdict. Prosecutor’s don’t need your help.

Now, let’s talk about timing. Legally, officers must administer the Miranda warnings when custodial interrogation begins. “Custody” means the suspect does not feel free to leave. Most people don’t feel free to leave as soon as they see flashing lights behind them. “Interrogation” means more than asking questions related to the drug trafficking investigation. Clever officers know how to extract damaging information from suspects in very subtle ways.

If officers Mirandize the defendant too late, any evidence they obtain is fruit from a poisonous tree and therefore inadmissible in court.

Witness Identification Issues

As mentioned, CIs often claim that Jerry is a drug dealer. Also as mentioned, CIs have a motivation to lie. So, prosecutors often look for corroborating proof in the form of an eyewitness who saw something. Simply seeing Jerry in the neighborhood at the time of the alleged drug transaction could be enough.

Eyewitness testimony is very persuasive. Something almost mystical occurs when a witness takes the stand, points to the defendant, and says “That’s the man.” 

Eyewitness testimony is also scientifically unreliable. Memory does not fade slowly and evenly over time. Most people almost immediately forget pretty much everything they see and hear. Cross racial identification is often an issue as well. If a white person sees then black men in a lineup who are all about the same age, weight, and height, the people in the lineup will all look alike. That’s not racial prejudice. That’s biology.

Sometimes, the witness is a camera instead of a person. Cameras usually don’t have memory or other issues. But there could be authentication issues. 

Today’s cameras record very sharp images, and they also need a lot of maintenance. These maintenance records are often unavailable. Very few people keep repair receipts and other such documents. Additionally, a camera operator or other such person must appear in court and authenticate the recording. Such witnesses are often unavailable, especially since the trial might be a year or more after the incident.

The Lack of Intent

Admittedly, this defense doesn’t come up very often. Legally, prosecutors can use evidence to establish intent. Furthermore, “intentional” usually means “non-accidental.” People accidentally possess drugs rather frequently, mostly because of a lack of knowledge, which is examined below. But pretty much no one “accidentally” trafficks controlled substances.

Occasionally, however, prosecutors use shaky circumstantial evidence to upgrade possession charges to distribution charges. Such evidence includes:

  • Firearms,
  • Cash,
  • Packing supplies,
  • Scales, and
  • Quantity of drugs.

In the post-arrest press conference, all this evidence is laid out for the cameras as if officers found it in the same place. But in the real world, a wad of bills in the living room might have little or nothing to do with drugs in the garage.

The Lack of Knowledge

Possession includes a knowledge element. Assume Sarah is in the passenger seat when officers find drugs in the glovebox. These charges might not hold up in court, unless prosecutors can prove that Sarah knew the drugs were there. Mere proximity isn’t enough. 

Things get complicated if Sarah smelled something fishy. Let’s look at a few scenarios. First, assume the glove box was locked. Sarah might think that was a bit suspicious, especially if she’s the paranoid type. But prosecutors probably couldn’t establish knowledge. 

Now, assume the driver told Sarah not to look in the glove compartment. If that happened, Sarah cannot play dumb. She should have known that there was something illegal in the glovebox.

The same analysis applies in drug mule cases. If Sarah carries a gift-wrapped package which contains drugs, trafficking charges probably wouldn’t hold up in court. But no one “accidentally” swallows tiny balloons filled with illegal drugs.

Challenging Proof of Substance in Minnesota

This defense frequently applies in marijuana trafficking cases. Hemp is legal in Minnesota, and marijuana is illegal, except for limited medicinal purposes. These two substances have the same physical properties. They look alike and smell alike. Only a THC chemical content test can distinguish them.

Such tests are unavailable in many smaller Minnesota counties. Furthermore, even if the test is available, it’s quite expensive. Many prosecutors decide that it’s too costly.

Without this test, it’s usually impossible to prove drug trafficking charges, at least beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s especially true if the defendant only had a few pounds of marijuana/hemp. A higher amount is harder for a Minnesota drug crime lawyer to explain.

On a related note, officers always use “field tests” which always “confirm” that the substance is illegal. But these unscientific test results don’t always hold up in court. In 2019, an officer arrested Georgia State’s quarterback for trafficking cocaine. Later tests confirmed that the substance was bird poop. Not surprisingly, the officer resigned shortly thereafter.

Usually, a Minnesota drug crime attorney partners with an independent lab that conducts independent tests.

Police Misconduct Minnesota

The Saluda County Sheriff’s deputy who made that arrest had a rather checkered past. For example, two years previously, he left another department after being accused of misconduct with a woman who was involved in a domestic dispute. We probably don’t want to know the details about that situation. 

This scenario is hardly unique. We all have skeletons in the closet. If a Minnesota drug crime lawyer can successfully undermine the officer’s credibility, the state’s case could suffer mightily. Respect for police officers reached an all-time low in 2020. Many jurors are ready to believe the worst about police officers, and ready to believe that law enforcement railroaded the defendant.

Duress in Minnesota

Pretty much all actions, whether they are good or bad, involve at least a little duress. Parents pressure their kids into eating their vegetables and drug dealers pressure individuals into becoming drug traffickers.

At some point, a line is crossed. If the defendant can prove that someone made a specific, credible threat which induced him/her into the conduct, the duress defense might hold water.

Duress is an affirmative defense. Defendants must admit they trafficked drugs and successfully argue that their behavior was not illegal. So, duress is also an all-or-nothing defense, at least in many cases. If defendants admit they broke the law, it’s very difficult to otherwise resolve the charges successfully.

Entrapment in Minnesota

Here’s another affirmative defense. Like duress, entrapment is difficult to prove. The defendant must establish that:

  • The officer induced her/him to commit the crime, and 
  • S/he had no predisposition toward this kind of criminal activity.

Online sex trafficking sting operations are a good example of how this defense works. Officer Smith poses as an underage girl and, armed with some lurid photos, enters a chat room. The officer strikes up a conversation with a defendant and offers to meet. During the course of this conversation, Officer Smith says “don’t you love me” or something like that in order to seal the deal. Our potential pervert shows up at the designated place, and that’s that.

Clearly, Officer Smith induced the defendant to commit the crime. But if the defendant was in a sex chat room, the defendant clearly had some propensity to commit the crime. His reluctance to meet, if any, isn’t relevant. Prosecutors only need to show a tiny bit of predisposition. The outcome might be different if the “girl” was in a Facebook or other relatively benign chat room.

In the drug trafficking context, users often become dealers after a boss promises them money or other benefits. Even if the trafficking was the boss’s idea, the user had some predisposition toward drug trafficking.

Lack of Evidence in Minnesota

The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest burden of proof in American law. Therefore, many people are morally guilty but not legally guilty. They did it, but the state cannot prove they did it.

This defense combines procedural and substantive elements. If a Minnesota drug crime lawyer can exclude evidence, it’s harder for the state to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Alternatively, if an attorney undermines the state’s evidence, perhaps by attacking the credibility of a witness or pointing out a gap in the chain of custody, jurors might not be thoroughly convinced that the defendant is guilty.

Consult Our Drug Crime Lawyer in Minnesota for a Positive Outcome

Call us for a free consultation at (855) 976-2444 today or contact us online. At Carlson & Jones, P.A., wel help you explore every legal option available and applicable to your case, preserve your rights, and get you the just outcome you deserve.

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