AMC’s hit TV series Breaking Bad offered viewers a glimpse into the underground world of drug manufacturing.
In the show, high school chemistry teacher Walter White, better known within his drug ring as ‘Heisenberg,’ establishes an underground methamphetamine syndicate built around his signature ‘blue’ meth.
Throughout the series, Walt and his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman, narrowly escape prison, largely as a consequence of Walt’s skilful planning and relentless endeavours to protect his empire.
But what penalties could Walt have faced had he been convicted in New South Wales?
In New South Wales, drug manufacturing is dealt with under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.
Under the Act, a person may be charged with drug manufacturing if it is alleged that they knowingly took part in any step of the drug manufacturing process.
This encompasses a broad range of actions – from directly taking part in the manufacture of drugs, to emptying flasks and disposing of rubbish associated with drug production, to even providing a location for the production of drugs.
Obviously, Walter and Jesse’s actions in cooking up countless batches of methamphetamine would constitute the offence of drug manufacturing under the law.
It’s also likely that Walter’s business partner and drug distributor, Gus Fring, would have been charged with drug manufacturing (amongst other offences) for providing a warehouse to Walt and Jesse to enable them to continue producing methamphetamine.
However, not all activity constitutes drug manufacturing, and you may be able to fight the charges by proving that your actions did not amount to drug manufacturing.
Conduct that does not amount to drug manufacturing includes simply watching the manufacturing process and attempting to produce drugs with chemicals that were incapable of doing so.
An experienced and reputable drug lawyer will also be able to identify any weaknesses in the case.
The prosecution must prove a number of things beyond reasonable doubt for you to be found guilty.
For example, they will need to prove that you have ‘knowledge’ of the offence.
This mean that if they cannot establish that you were aware that your actions were contributing towards the manufacture of drugs, then your lawyer will be able to have the charge dropped or thrown out of court.
So, for example, if you provided premises that were being used for drug manufacture, but the prosecution cannot prove that you had knowledge that they were being used for that purpose, your lawyer will push to have the case dropped or thrown out.
A good drug lawyer will also be able to identify any defences you may have to the charge, which, if established, will result in a finding of ‘not guilty.’
For example, you are entitled to be found ‘not guilty’ if you establish that you manufactured the drugs under duress – in other words, that you only participated in the manufacture of drugs because another person threatened to kill or cause really serious injury to you or your immediate family.
Drug manufacturing is a serious charge, and it is therefore a good idea to have a specialist drug defence team on your side.
This is because if you are found guilty, you could face heavy penalties under the law including a lengthy term of imprisonment.
The actual penalty that you will receive will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of drug, what role you played in manufacturing the drugs, and which court your matter is heard in.
However, the main determining factor when it comes to understanding the type of penalty you may receive is the amount of the drug that was produced.
Maximum penalties range from 2 years imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine for producing no more than a small quantity of drugs (0.25g ecstasy or 1 gram of cocaine or amphetamines) to life imprisonment and/or a $550,000 fine for producing more than a large commercial quantity (0.5kg ecstasy or 1kg cocaine or amphetamines).
In the case of drug manufacture in NSW, the whole weight of the substance containing drugs is taken into account.
For example, if you have 1kg of a substance that only contains 100 grams a pure drug, you will still be charged for the entire kilogram, not the ‘pure’ weight (ie the 100 grams).
This is different to Commonwealth drug offences where the ‘pure’ weight is relevant.
In one episode in season 2, Walt and Jesse produce a total of 38 grams of pure methamphetamine, which made up 17.2 kilograms after being mixed.
This alone would amount to ‘more than a large commercial quantity’ of methamphetamine, and it’s more than likely that had they been caught in NSW, they would have faced a lengthy prison term unless a capable drug law specialist was able to cast doubt on the prosecution case or raise a valid defence.
They may also have faced charges for a number of other offences, such as money laundering which attracts additional maximum penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment.
While these are obviously heavy penalties, an experienced lawyer who specialises in drug cases will always be able to assist.
They can even make a significant difference if the evidence against you is very strong and you wish to plead ‘guilty’, in which case they will to fight to ‘downgrade’ the charges, to prepare you for court and to push for the lowest possible penalty.
When it comes to choosing a good drug lawyer, it’s important to ensure that they are both experienced and reputable – unlike the notoriously corrupt Saul Goodman who advises Walt throughout the series.