It is common for officers at airports and other ports of entry to intercept people carrying controlled drugs in their luggage, clothing or inside their bodies on behalf of suppliers in foreign jurisdictions. The colloquial term for such a person involved in drug importation is a ‘mule’. They may have been pressured into carrying the drugs or have done so for a fee, or both.
On occasion large quantities of drugs are found. Sometimes it is merely the leftovers from a holiday or business trip abroad. This may have occurred at a location where drug use is more widely tolerated by law enforcement than it is in the United Kingdom.
Committing the offence of drug importation can however result in severe consequences.
The crime of drug importation
Drugs are brought into the jurisdiction in a number of supposedly ingenious ways. For example, cocaine may be moved in its liquid form while disguised as something else. Drug ‘mules’ may swallow a number of pellets containing drugs of different kinds.
Naturally, the police and associated organisations are frequently uncovering these methods as they arise. This results in those who take the risk and are caught being charged and sent to prison for a significant term. This will be despite initial thoughts that the police or customs officers have been outwitted.
Which laws would I break?
The underlying offence is the breaching of the prohibition on the importation and exportation of controlled drugs. This is created by Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This prohibition is paired with the substantive offence. This is contained in Section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
The maximum penalties
The maximum penalties for the offence of drug importation will vary depending on the type of drugs in question:
- Class A, life imprisonment;
- Class B and C, 14 years’ imprisonment;
Sentencing for drug importation
Various factors will alter the sentence imposed upon someone who either pleads guilty or is found guilty of this offence. These include:
- the role played by the individual in the activity
- the amount and character of the substance in question
- their level of co-operation with the police.
The sentences here are generally heavy. Prison almost always follows for even the smallest quantity of drug. Sentences of between ten and twenty years, or even more, are common where the quantity is large.
There are however a large number of factors that might reduce the seriousness of the offence or provide valuable mitigation. It is essential that you choose a solicitor who will properly explore these on your behalf to ensure a proper reduction in sentence.
In Gregory  EWCA Crim 649, the appellant’s sentence of imprisonment was reduced from 8 years to 6 years. This was because the original sentence did not sufficiently reflect the appellant’s relatively minor role and the fact that he believed he was carrying cannabis rather than cocaine.
Conversely, the appellant in Burns  EWCA Crim 1123 received an increased sentence upon a reference by the Attorney-General. In this case the sentence increased from 8 years to 14 years’ imprisonment. This was said to better reflect the fact that he had abused his professional role as a distribution supervisor by allowing cocaine importations.
There is a comprehensive sentencing guideline that judges will use in order to decide sentence.
How we can help in drug importation cases
Such offences are always serious. Expert representation at the earliest stage is highly desirable, particularly if you may have acted under duress and have the basis of a defence in law. Sadly, many already very vulnerable people are caught up in drug importation. It is essential that your story is told.
If you are to be spoken to about an allegation of drug importation then the first thing you must to is take advantage of our free and independent advice in any interview under caution. We will be able to give you initial advice that might help with the direction of the case.
If your case is to go to court then we will make sure that your best case is before a jury at trial. Alternatively we will ensure that mitigation is obtained and properly presented on your behalf in order to make sure your sentence properly reflects your involvement.
A number of reasons why you might want to instruct VHS Fletchers over other firms can be found here.
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