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What are common defenses for drug trafficking charges?

By Spodek Law Group | October 16, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 17, 2023)

Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 05:39 pm


Defenses for Drug Trafficking Charges

Getting charged with drug trafficking can be scary. The penalties are harsh, and include long prison sentences. But their are defenses that can help. Don’t lose hope! Read on to learn about common defenses lawyers use to fight drug trafficking charges.

A common defense is to challenge the legality of the stop or search that led to the drugs being found. The 4th Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure. If the police stop or search was illegal, the evidence can get thrown out.

For example, if the police pulled you over for a minor traffic violation like a broken taillight as an excuse to search for drugs, a lawyer could argue the stop was just a pretext and challenge it. Or if the police searched your car or home without a warrant and without permission, a lawyer could challenge the search as unconstitutional.

If the stop or search gets thrown out as illegal, so does the evidence from it. This “exclusionary rule” can cause the whole case to collapse. So pay attention to the details of how the police found the drugs. It could make or break your defense.

No Proof You Knew About the Drugs

Another common defense is to argue the prosecution can’t prove you knew about the drugs. Just because drugs were found in your car or home doesn’t mean you knew about them. Someone else could have left them there without your knowledge.

This defense can work well when the drugs were found in a place you share access to with other people – like a car you lend out or a home with multiple occupants. It’s harder for the prosecution to prove knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt when multiple people had access.

Lack of fingerprints on the packaging or large quantities of cash on you can also help show unawareness. You may also argue you were framed if you had a falling out with someone who had access. Raising doubt over knowledge can defeat trafficking charges.

You Were Forced or Coerced

You may also argue you only transported or sold drugs because you were forced or coerced. This is known as the “duress” defense. If you can show you acted under immediate threat of death or serious injury, it can excuse drug trafficking.

For example, if a drug cartel threatened your family unless you transported drugs, you may argue you only did it under duress. Or if an abusive partner or spouse threatened you to make you sell drugs for them. Immediate threats can justify otherwise illegal actions.

The threat has to be truly immediate and serious – just owing money to dealers likely won’t qualify. There also can’t be a reasonable alternative to breaking the law. But in extreme cases of coercion, duress can provide a defense.

You Were Entrapped

Entrapment is another possible defense. This argues law enforcement induced or persuaded you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have. Some undercover operations to catch dealers involve unacceptable coercion or manipulation.

For example, if an undercover cop pressured an addict repeatedly to get drugs for them until they finally gave in. Or if an informant made threats or used humiliation to push someone into selling. Their actions may have crossed the line into entrapment.

However, just giving someone an opportunity to commit a crime isn’t entrapment. There has to be unacceptable persuasion or coercion. But if police crossed a line, entrapment can defeat charges.

You’re an Addict Who Possessed for Personal Use

If you’re struggling with addiction and possessed drugs just for personal use, treatment may be a better option than jail. Many states have diversion programs to avoid incarcerating non-violent addicts.

For example, California’s Prop 36 program allows those caught with drugs for personal use to enter treatment instead of prison. Other states have similar programs to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate addicts.

You’ll have to prove you possessed just for personal use, not sale. But getting help for addiction is more constructive than prison for many folks. Seeking treatment can provide a compassionate resolution.

The Drugs Were Planted

One of the boldest defenses is to claim police planted the drugs on you. This argues you were framed and the drugs aren’t actually yours. It’s a bold accusation, so you’ll need strong proof.

For example, witnesses who saw officers pull drugs from their pockets or dashboard cam footage that contradicts police testimony. Physical evidence that doesn’t add up can also support a planting defense.

Judges and juries don’t like to believe officers would plant evidence. So you’ll need compelling evidence of tampering, not just speculation. But if you can prove drugs were planted, it defeats the case.

You’re Exempt from Prosecution

Some states exempt those who report overdoses from drug prosecution. So if you’re charged after calling 911 to help an overdose victim, you may have a defense.

These “Good Samaritan” laws encourage overdose reporting by those who fear arrest. The overdose victim’s life takes priority over prosecution in many states now. So always call for help – the law may protect you.

Medical and recreational marijuana laws also exempt certain possession and sales. Local decriminalization laws may too. Know your state and local codes – the drug laws are evolving.


Fighting drug trafficking charges involves challenging the evidence and police conduct. Knowledge and intent are also common weak points to raise doubt. And don’t hesitate to raise coercion, entrapment or planting claims if the circumstances warrant.

Sentence mitigation through treatment programs or exemptions is another option. And always comply if offered a plea deal – they often lead to dramatically lower sentences. With an experienced criminal defense lawyer, many options exist.

The penalties are severe, but try to stay positive – solid defenses exist. Educate yourself on your rights and the laws in your state. Don’t take a “just plead guilty” attitude. Fight the charges and keep believing in yourself!


Good overview of trafficking defenses: https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/defense/drug-crimes/transportation-or-sales/

On duress and entrapment defenses: https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-charges/common-criminal-defenses.html

California’s Prop 36 diversion program: https://www.courts.ca.gov/prop36.htm

State Good Samaritan overdose laws: https://www.networkforphl.org/resources/tools-and-resources-for-advancing-good-samaritan-policies/

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