Federal Drug Trafficking: Record Minimum Sentence
Griffin Law Office was retained by the parents of a 19-year old charged with federal drug trafficking. The client was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing.
The client grew up in Tijuana, and his father was from Orange County, and his mother was from Mexico. After high school, the young man began “running” with a group of people in Tijuana that his parents did not approve of, and they cut off any support to him. The client borrowed some money from an acquaintance, who was later discovered to be connected to a Mexican drug cartel. Within criminal organizations, a small debt turns into a lifetime of repayment of the favor.
The client, in possession of a border crossing card, was told that he was to drive vehicles across the border to establish their legitimate border crossing in practice known as “burning plates.” If a vehicle crosses many times successfully, they face less scrutiny. The client attempted to back out of the “job” but was threatened with bodily harm. The client was also assured he would be only “burning plates.”
When the client showed up for his border crossing, he was given a green Jaguar, the most conspicuous looking car to guarantee a stop. The plates on the vehicle did not match the registration, of which the client was unaware. Before making the trip, the client was not given a destination or a cell phone, and the cartel members confiscated his border crossing card. The client was told he didn’t need the card and to tell the border police that he had lost it.
The client was immediately pulled into secondary at the US border crossing, and the border police discovered 25kilos of what appeared to be methamphetamine. The package was placed in the trunk of the Jaguar and was poorly hidden. The client was unaware of his payload. The client was booked into federal custody and faced charges that could carry ten years in prison.
The US Attorney’s office had turned over numerous pages of discovery (police reports, etc.), and the last page, a drug analysis, stated that the percentage of the purity of the meth was 8.6%. Everyone who looked at the report assumed the purity was 86%, and even that would have been less than ideal for the transportation of illegal drugs. Mr. Griffin presented the puzzling situation to the US Attorney’s office, and the drugs were re-tested, and the result of the second analysis verified the 8.6% purity.
Mr. Griffin came up with an alternative theory about what took place. Based upon the 8.6% purity, the attention-getting vehicle the client was proffered, and the circumstances that the cartel gave the client no destination, Mr. Griffin argued that the bust was an intentional setup to create a diversion for a larger, more pure shipment, coming in immediately behind the client’s car. The drug runners had obviously sacrificed a 19-year old Mexican kid to what could be years in prison just to create a diversion for a legitimate shipment.
Mr. Griffin presented the theory to the US Attorney’s office. He was initially told he was crazy because the federal agents were fixated on the original weight, 25 kilos, but Mr. Griffin insisted only 8.6% of the 25 kilos was actually meth. The case was in front of a federal judge known to impose the harshest sentences for any border-related meth crimes. Because it was indisputable that the client agreed to perform some act for the cartel in furtherance of their criminal operation, he was forced to take a plea.
To establish that the client deserved a light sentence, Mr. Griffin presented his alternative theory of events. At the sentencing hearing, the judge’s opening remarks were that Griffin’s requested sentence of just a few months in jail was an insult to the court, citing the 25 kilos and his history of imposing maximum sentences on similarly situated defendants. Following those remarks was a brutal hour-long back and forth debate where the judge tested every aspect of the theory.
At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the judge agreed there was just simply no other explanation for the facts of the case. The client was sentenced to the lightest meth trafficking sentence ever imposed by this judge. The judge commented on Mr. Griffin’s performance and said he couldn’t remember the last time that he changed his opinion so drastically.