Trafficking controlled substances is the most serious narcotics crime in Nevada. Not only do convictions carry lengthy prison sentences and heavy fines. But having a drug offense on your criminal record may hurt your chances of being hired for a regular job.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys have a long track record of getting narcotics trafficking offenses dismissed or reduced to less serious charges, sometimes without any prison time. Learn more about the law, legal defenses and penalties below.
If you were charged with trafficking in marijuana, special laws apply. Please go directly to our section on the topic-Nevada marijuana laws.
1. Definition of Trafficking in Controlled Substances in Nevada
The legal definition of "trafficking in controlled substances" in Las Vegas, Nevada, is when a person knowingly sells, manufactures, delivers or brings into this State or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession of large quantities of schedule I drugs in Nevada or schedule II drugs in Nevada.1
(This article concentrates on trafficking schedule I drugs under NRS 453.3385. For information on trafficking schedule II drugs, scroll down to section 5.)
As you can see, trafficking is a very broad crime that applies to cases where a large amount of drugs is involved and the suspect allegedly engaged in any of the following behaviors:
- possession of controlled substances in Las Vegas, NV
- manufacture of controlled substances in Las Vegas, NV
- transportation of controlled substances in Las Vegas, NV, or
- sale of controlled substances in Las Vegas, NV
Trafficking charges are typically reserved for "big-time drug dealers," as Moapa Valley criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse explains:
"If police witness Tom selling one gram of meth in Bunkerville, Tom probably wouldn't be prosecuted for the Bunkerville crime of trafficking drugs because one gram is too small to qualify as trafficking. He could instead be charged with 'selling drugs in Nevada.'"
Note that a defendant will be charged for a separate offense for each controlled substance he/she simultaneously possessed. So if a person is trafficking both heroin and meth, the person faces two separate trafficking charges: one for each drug.2
Also, note that trafficking drugs is illegal under federal law as well. To learn about the federal crime of drug trafficking, read our article on the federal crime of drug trafficking.
1.1. Types of Narcotics prohibited:
NRS 453.3385 applies only to schedule I drugs as well as to narcotics containing flunitrazepam or gamma-hydroxybutyrate. Moapa Valley criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse provides an example:
"If John stockpiles several pounds of Xanax in his Goodsprings home without a prescription, he is not violating Goodsprings trafficking law because Xanax is a Schedule IV drug, not I or II. But he could be prosecuted for other drug crimes such as 'possession with intent to sell in Nevada.'"
Note that trafficking is often abbreviated as TCS (short for trafficking in controlled substances in Las Vegas, NV).
2. Defenses to TCS in Nevada
Although Nevada trafficking charges are very serious, there are legal defenses available that could result in your case getting thrown out or reduced to a lesser offense. Below are two common strategies your attorney may use to fight your case.
2.1. The drugs did not weigh enough
Nevada trafficking charges under NRS 453.3385 should not stand if the narcotics in your case do not meet a strict weight requirement: 4 grams for Schedule I drugs.
If your attorney can show that the narcotics in your case weighed less than the minimum amount or that the scales the police used to measure them were defective or implemented incorrectly, then you have a good defense to Las Vegas trafficking charges.
2.2. The police performed an unlawful search
The 4th Amendment protects against illegal searches and seizures by the police. So if the cops searched your home, car, or body on a faulty Nevada search warrant in a Las Vegas drug trafficking case, then anything found from the search may be inadmissible evidence.
A LV criminal defense lawyer asks the judge to throw out evidence discovered from an unlawful search by filing what is called a Las Vegas "motion to suppress evidence" with the court. This explains to the judge how the police acted unconstitutionally in carrying out the search.
If your motion to suppress is granted and the evidence is excluded, it is very likely your Nevada narcotics trafficking case will be dropped as well. The prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This becomes difficult or impossible of their key evidence gets suppressed.
3. Penalties for Narcotics Trafficking in Nevada
The punishment for a Nevada conviction of trafficking schedule I controlled substances under NRS 453.3385 depends on the quantity of the drugs in the case. Prison may be avoidable if the suspect cooperates with the cops in their investigation.
Typical drugs under this category include:
If the drugs weigh at least four (4) grams but less than fourteen (14) grams, then a Las Vegas drug trafficking case is prosecuted as a category B felony in Nevada, carrying:
- one to six years in Nevada State Prison, and
- a fine of up to $50,000
However, if the drugs amount to at least fourteen (14) grams but less than twenty-eight (28) grams, then drug trafficking in Las Vegas is still a category B felony in Nevada but with an increased sentence of:
- two to fifteen years in Nevada State Prison, and
- a fine of up to $100,000
Finally, if the drugs weigh in at twenty-eight (28) grams or more, then the Las Vegas offense of drug trafficking is considered a category A felony in Nevada carrying penalties of:
- twenty-five years to life in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after ten years, and
- a fine of up to $500,000
Remember that the above sentencing schemes do not apply to the schedule I controlled substance of marijuana. Click to our page on the Nevada crime of trafficking marijuana for penalty information.
3.1. Avoiding prison in a Nevada trafficking case (NRS 453.3405)
Although prison is mandatory for Nevada narcotics trafficking convictions, the defendant's attorney may request that the judge consider reducing or suspending the prison sentence completely if the defendant substantially helped the police investigate any crime.
When deciding whether to lessen or suspend the Nevada prison sentence of someone convicted of trafficking controlled substances in Las Vegas, Nevada, the judge may consider several factors including:
- the court's evaluation of the significance and usefulness of the defendant's assistance,
- the truthfulness, completeness and reliability of any information or testimony provided by the defendant,
- the nature and extent of the defendant's assistance,
- any injury suffered or any danger or risk of injury to the convicted person or his or her family resulting from his or her assistance, and
- the timeliness of the defendant's assistance
3.2. Getting a trafficking charge reduced to a lesser offense
Of all the Nevada narcotics crimes, trafficking carries the harshest penalties. Depending on the circumstances of the case, prosecutors may be willing to reduce the charge to any of the lesser Las Vegas drug offenses below as part of a plea bargain to avoid trial.
- Sale of Controlled Substances in Las Vegas, Nevada:
The Nevada crime of selling controlled substances and drugs carries lesser prison sentences and lower fines than trafficking. A first-time conviction may even result in a sentence of probation and no prison.
- Possession of Controlled Substances with Intent to Sell in Las Vegas, Nevada:
The Nevada crime of possessing controlled substances and drugs for purpose of sale also carries lower prison terms, lower fines and the possibility of probation for a first-time offense.
- Possession of Controlled Substances in Las Vegas, Nevada:
One of the least serious drug offenses, the Nevada crime of possession of controlled substances and drugs allows for a defendant's possession charge to be completely dismissed if they successfully complete Las Vegas Drug Court.
4. Drug Trafficking and Immigration in Nevada
Undocumented aliens looking to adjust status may be removed from the U.S. for being suspected of drug trafficking, which is one of many inadmissible offenses in Nevada. And legal aliens convicted of drug trafficking may be deported for it as well. Read about our criminal defense of aliens in Nevada.
5. When the drug is a schedule II (NRS 354.3395):
The main schedule II drugs are cocaine, crack, OxyContin and Ritalin.
If the narcotics amount to at least twenty-eight (28) grams but less than two hundred (200) grams, then drug trafficking in Las Vegas is considered a category C felony in Nevada carrying:
- one to five years in Nevada State Prison, and
- a fine of up to $50,000
But if the drugs weigh at least two hundred (200) grams but less than four hundred (400) grams, then Las Vegas drug trafficking is a category B felony in Nevada with a sentence of:
- two to ten years in Nevada State Prison, and
- a fine of up to $100,000
And if the drugs weigh four hundred (400) grams or more, then Las Vegas drug trafficking is prosecuted as a category A felony in Nevada, carrying a punishment of:
- fifteen years or life in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after five years, and
- a fine of up to $250,000
Learn more about the Nevada crime of trafficking schedule II drugs (NRS 453.3395).
6. Further Resources
- Narcotics Anonymous: A global community helping people overcome addiction through a twelve-step program.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Scheduling List: Lists narcotics and their schedule classification.
- Nevada Parole and Probation: This division of the Nevada Department of Public Safety oversees people serving probation.
Accused of trafficking drugs in Nevada? We are here to help ...
If you or a loved one has been charged with drug trafficking in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation right away. We may be able to keep you out of prison and get your charges reduced or even dropped.
- Go back to our page on Las Vegas, Nevada drug crimes.
¿Habla español? Más información sobre el crimen de Nevada tráfico de drogas.
Except as otherwise authorized by the provisions of NRS 453.011 to 453.552, inclusive, a person who knowingly or intentionally sells, manufactures, delivers or brings into this State or who is knowingly or intentionally in actual or constructive possession of flunitrazepam, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, any substance for which flunitrazepam or gamma-hydroxybutyrate is an immediate precursor or any controlled substance which is listed in schedule I, except marijuana, or any mixture which contains any such controlled substance, shall be punished, unless a greater penalty is provided pursuant to NRS 453.322, if the quantity involved:
1. Is 4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years and by a fine of not more than $50,000.
2. Is 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years and by a fine of not more than $100,000.
3. Is 28 grams or more, for a category A felony by imprisonment in the state prison:
(a) For life with the possibility of parole, with eligibility for parole beginning when a minimum of 10 years has been served; or
(b) For a definite term of 25 years, with eligibility for parole beginning when a minimum of 10 years has been served,
and by a fine of not more than $500,000.
2 Nevada v. Andrews, 134 Nev. Advance Opinion 12 (2018).