When cops are making charging decisions, or when prosecutors are going into the grand jury to charge someone on an indictment, they take into account certain circumstances that might ultimately increase the penalty for a drug trafficking offense. Two of those circumstances are (i) if the drug trafficking crime involves a minor (a person under 18 years old); and (ii) if the drug trafficking crime involves the use of a firearm.
A. Selling Drugs to or Near Minors
Ohio law views drug crimes that involve minors very seriously. Accordingly, if you are charged with trafficking (i.e., selling, distributing, or offering drugs) within the vicinity of a school, or within the vicinity of at least one minor, then the charge becomes one of aggravated drug trafficking, which is a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony can be punishable by one to five years in prison, and up to $10,000 in fines.
In addition, if the quantity of drugs in your possession or trafficked at the time of your arrest is a “bulk amount” though less than five times the bulk amount, (or 5,000 grams-19,999 grams for marijuana) and you are within the vicinity of a school or a minor, then the charge becomes a second-degree felony with a mandatory minimum prison sentence. Finally, if you are caught with between five and 50 times the bulk amount (or 20,000 grams-39,999 grams for marijuana) near a school or minors, then the charge becomes a first-degree felony with a mandatory prison sentence.
Thus, the presence of minors at or around a drug trafficking crime is relevant to the charging decision in any drug case. Of course, the government ultimately needs to prove that you were in the vicinity of a school or minors at the time to be guilty of the charge, but a conviction will lead to more severe penalties.
B. Selling Drugs when Firearms are Involved
Ohio is an “open carry” state. That means that most adults may carry guns openly without a permit, except in vehicles or in businesses that sell alcohol. Further, it is legal for Ohio residents to carry a concealed weapon if they have a license. However, if you are arrested for drug trafficking, and you have a firearm on you, the existence of the gun could impact state court charges because the prosecutor could add a gun specification to the charge depending on the circumstances. If you are not permitted to possess a weapon based on prior criminal charges, under ORC 2923.13, possession of a firearm will impact state court charges.
Under federal law, however, gun crimes are charged as enhancements on federal charges of drug trafficking and criminal gang activities. Thus, even though Ohio allows carrying a firearm without a permit, the existence of a gun could have an impact in a federal drug trafficking case against you.
C. Major Drug Offender Specification
Ohio law includes a “specification,” which could serve to enhance a defendant’s criminal sentence in a drug case. Specifically, under ORC 2929.01, “major drug offender” is defined as a person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, drug possession or drug trafficking in a substance in certain quantities. For example, a major drug offender designation comes into play when the quantity of drugs involved is at least one hundred grams of cocaine or heroin, or one thousand unit doses of heroin or a fentanyl-related compound.
The “specification” part comes into play because the major drug offender specification can only be used to enhance the sentence imposed by the sentencing judge if the major drug offender specification is included in the indictment against the particular defendant.
If a court ultimately determines that someone is a major drug offender, then such a designation could result in a conviction for a felony of the first degree and a mandatory prison term of 11 years.
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