Drug Trafficking Charges for Utah Man Smuggling $300,000 Worth of Marijuana

A Cedar City Utah man was arrested for drug trafficking charges when Oklahoma police caught him smuggling $300,000 worth of marijuana through their state.

It all started with a traffic violation

Photo by: Highway Patrol Images

Photo by: Highway Patrol Images

68 year old Peter Dulfon of Cedar City, Utah was stopped along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma for numerous traffic violations when authorities realized there was more going on. Police took Dulfon into the squad car for questioning and when officers began to cite Dulfon for the traffic violations, he attempted to flee. Oklahoma police realized there was more to the story and ordered a K9 unit to the scene.

A trunk full of pot

When the K-9 unit arrived, the drug dog alerted police to the trunk which officers found full of duffle bags. Inside the bags were vacuum sealed pouches of marijuana, which authorities have estimated weighing between 80 and 120 pounds and had a $300,000 street value. Dulfon, who was originally stopped for traffic violations that would’ve ended with a ticket, was booked into jail on drug trafficking charges.

Drug trafficking in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has recently reduced the penalties for drug possession however drug trafficking and distribution charges are still harsh. Under Oklahoma state law, drug trafficking of more than 25 pounds of marijuana will result in a hefty fine ranging between $25,000 and $100,000 as well as four years to life in prison.

Drug Trafficking

Photo courtesy of: Canadian County (Oklahoma) Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

Had Dulfon been caught in Utah his fine would be far less, ranging at $5,000 to $10,000. Prison time in Utah would have been higher however; up to five years if he had less than 100 pounds of marijuana in his trunk and as much as 15 years in prison if the final weigh in of his stash exceeded 100 pounds.

Drug trafficking vs distribution

The charges Dulfon faced in Oklahoma were at a state level, and reflected the state’s penalties for distribution. Dulfon was charged with drug trafficking though. Although some may drug trafficking and distribution are one in the same, drug trafficking charges can go to federal court which means those convicted would be spending time in federal prison, not state. So what makes distribution charges become trafficking instead? There are two reasons in which a person would face drug trafficking charges as well as distribution. The first but not always the most common is when drug are sold over state lines. The most prevalent cause of federal drug trafficking charges however is not regarding the movement of the drugs, but the vast quantity the suspect allegedly intends to sell.

Federal drug trafficking penalties

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Federal Trafficking Penalties, trafficking of less than 50 kilograms (110lbs) of marijuana may result in up to five years in federal prison as well as another fine of up to $250,000. If the amount is over 110 pounds, or 50 to 99 kilograms, that can result in up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $1 million dollars. Of course, these prison sentences and fine amounts can be increased for subsequent charges. Authorities mentioned Dulfon had a prior criminal record but failed to elaborate on that information. They only stated that “he’ll be put away for a long time.”

Consult an attorney

Photo by: Phillippe Put

Photo by: Phillippe Put

When it comes to facing distribution or drug trafficking charges in court, it is never recommended to go it alone. Regardless of whether or not defendants are first time offenders or if they have a lengthy criminal record, anyone who has been arrested for distribution or trafficking is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss the possible state and/or federal charges they may be facing.

Counterfeit Pain Pills More Dangerous Than Originals

Thousands of counterfeit pain pills confiscated during a massive drug bust turned out to be more dangerous that the original prescriptions the bogus pills were imitating.

Distribution of pain pills

Drug bust

Photo by: Bill Brooks

Just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, a man renting a home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah was arrested for what authorities are calling one of the largest drug busts in Utah’s history. The thousands of pills that 26 year old Aaron Michael Shamo was making and selling daily were being designed to look like popular pain pills such as Percocet and OxyContin, but instead contained an ingredient far more addictive and dangerous than oxycodone – Fentanyl. Detectives believe Shamo had sold and shipped the counterfeit pain pills throughout Utah as well as around the nation over the course of several months. The pain pills containing fentanyl could have reached millions of people over that span of time.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is referred to as prescription heroin since users feel many of the same effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” Due to this high potency, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and carries a greater risk of death. The CDC  stated that the “DEA describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic associated with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States.” By taking black market pain pills without knowing the actual ingredients, an increased number of individuals are likely to overdose. Those who are frequent users of pain pills may receive a high from the counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl. Others who have a lower tolerance to opioids may suffer respiratory distress and die from a single pill.

Utah’s prescription drug problem was bad enough

pain pillsUtah has a major prescription drug problem. According to the Utah Department of Health, “Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths ( . . .)” They also stated that “59% of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone”. With so many drug overdoses from oxycodone itself, how many more would die when counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl are taken instead? The sad reality of Utah’s prescription drug problem is most of the residents who abuse prescription drugs got their start with a legal prescription from a doctor. Unable to fight the opioid’s addictive quality, many of those individuals turn to street drugs or street pills. Instead of receiving the help and rehabilitation they need, they may be getting a deadly dose of fentanyl.

Help on the horizon?

For those who have family or friends who are suffering from addiction, there is hope when a loved one takes one dose to many. Not only did Utah pass the Good Samaritan Law, allowing persons to report an overdose of another without fearing their own prosecution, but there are overdose reversing drugs such as Narcan (nalaxone) that can be prescribed to someone who is close to an addict. Narcan can safely reverse an overdose to heroin or opioids and is responsible for saving over 150 lives so far in Utah alone. Unfortunately however, the overdose reversal drugs are no match for high potency fentanyl, such as the as counterfeit pain pills being distributed in high quantities by Aaron Shamo.

Narcan

Photo by: Peretz Partensky

According to the CDC, “Multiple doses of naloxone [Narcon] may be needed to treat a fentanyl overdose because of its high potency.” If the person administering Narcan to a fentanyl overdose patient or loved one is unaware of the need for additional doses to combat the fentanyl, the victim may still die.

Education and treatment

With so many Utah residents suffering from addiction and dependency on pain pills, it is vital that those afflicted receive the help they need through residential drug treatment facilities. These facilities should be accessible to all either by voluntarily checking themselves in or if facing charges such as possession of schedule II drugs, mandatory treatment should be issued instead of jail time (for where little to no rehabilitation is available). To discuss drug charges and options for treatment, contact a criminal defense attorney. For a list of drug rehabilitation centers throughout Utah, contact the Department of Health.

Lesser Included Offense – Plea Bargain Option or Backup Charge to Ensure a Conviction

When someone is charged with a crime such as a felony, that charge is often accompanied by a lesser included offense of that greater crime.

Lesser included offense

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

A lesser included offense is a crime wherein the elements, or specific aspects needed to prove guilt of that crime are included within the greater crime being charged. In order for a lesser included offense to be valid, it must be impossible for the greater crime to be committed unless the lesser offense is as well. For instance, a class A misdemeanor assault would be the lesser included offense for third degree felony assault as it is impossible for someone to use “force or means likely to produce death or serious bodily injury to another” if they never caused any “substantial bodily injury”.

Use in traffic violations

Lesser included offenses come up frequently with traffic violations. An example would be if a person is arrested for reckless driving and exceeding the maximum speed limit by up to 25 mph. The first being a class B misdemeanor (greater offense), while the latter is a mere infraction (lesser included offense). Utah Code defines reckless driving as someone who “operates a vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. Exceeding the speed limit in certain areas of circumstances can also fall under the same definition, but without a criminal charge attached.

One or the other

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

When a lesser included offense accompanies a greater offense, often the defendant cannot be convicted of both charges. Such would be the case with voluntary manslaughter and murder. If the defendant was found guilty it would be for either one or the other; not both. This can also apply to drug charges. Someone can be arrested for possession and possession with intent to distribute yet if the intent to distribute charge sticks the simple possession charge is void as it is already encompassed within the greater charge.

Lesser related offense

There are some lesser charges that are related in nature, yet not included in more severe crime. These are known as lesser related offenses. Possession is a lesser related offense to distribution and often goes hand in hand, yet possession is NOT a lesser included offense of distribution. Someone can be a middle man in a deal, never having the illegal drugs in their possession, and face distribution charges without the possession charges. If they did possess the drugs and sold them, then the possession charge would be a lesser related offense.

Use in plea bargains

Photo by: Karen Neoh

Photo by: Karen Neoh

A lesser included offense can be beneficial in defense cases as it can give the defendant an option to plead guilty to a lighter crime and have the more serious charge dropped. This is sometimes the case when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the lesser crime but the defense may not want to risk the chance of the defendant being found guilty of the higher crime, so they accept the lesser offense in exchange for dropping the greater one.

Prosecution’s use of lesser charges

The defendant isn’t the only one that has the potential to benefit from lesser included offenses. The prosecution will often add a lesser included offense to ensure that the defendant will be found guilty of something. This backup charge helps the prosecution ensure a conviction when they may doubt whether or not the more serious charge would stick. Since they can be used for or against the defendant, it is always wise to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to help guide you through the court proceedings and know when to accept or fight lesser included offenses.