Eight people charged with importing drug precursors: what does the law say about drug importation?

In an incident last month, police charged eight people with drug and firearm importation offences.

Police allegedly seized 10kg of ‘phenyl-2-propanone’ or ‘P2P’, which is a crucial ingredient used to manufacture crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’.

The seizure is the largest of it’s kind from the Torres Strait.

Drug importation into Australia is not a new industry, but there have been concerns that it is a growing one, particularly from South American cartels who have set their eyes on the lucrative Australian market.

Despite a traditionally strong stance against drugs taken by governments around the world, the practice is far from being stamped out.

Drug importation is a serious crime which carries the potential of a lengthy prison sentence, up to a maximum of life imprisonment for very large quantities.

Even small importations are treated seriously by the courts.

Drug importation is broken down into three broad categories:
1. Importing any quantity
2. Importing a marketable quantity
3. Importing a commercial quantity

Importing any quantity:

If the prosecution cannot prove the quantity, or id the amount is less than a marketable quantity, then you may be charged with importing any quantity.

The maximum penalties are ten years imprisonment and/or a $220,000 fine.

Over half of all people who are convicted of importing any quantity will receive a prison sentence.

Importing a marketable quantity:

The next category is importing a marketable quantity of drugs.

What constitutes ‘a marketable quantity’ depends on the type of drugs involved: for example, for cannabis this amount is 25 kilograms, but for ecstasy it is 100 grams.

The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $550,000.

99% of people who are convicted of this offence will spend time in jail.

Importing a commercial quantity:

Importing a commercial quantity is the most serious category and carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or a $825,000 fine.

All of those convicted spent time behind bars, with the average sentence being eight years with a six year non-parole period.

Drug importation is a federal offence, and drug offences are one of the most common types of offences dealt with in higher courts in Australia.

Because importation charges are so serious, the chances of having evidence kept out of the courtroom or having charges dropped is lower than for less serious offences.
Illegally obtained evidence may often be prevented from working against a defendant.

This is often the case for drug possession or small drug supply cases.

But in commercial drug cases or drug importation cases, it is less likely that courts will exclude evidence even if it was illegally obtained.

Courts have stated that the extent of the illegality must be substantial before the evidence of drugs will be excluded in these types of cases.

The more serious the offence, the more likely it is that the law will allow the evidence to be used in court despite police impropriety.

While engaging a specialist drug lawyer may not be cheap, it should be weighed up against what is at stake in a commercial drug case.

The high chance of going to prison if convicted, and the complexity of commercial drug cases, may well justify the cost because a top drug lawyer will often be able to have cases dropped due to a substantial impropriety on the part of police or thrown out of court due to insufficient evidence (eg lack of proof of knowledge or exclusive possession), or by finding inconsistencies, available defence/s, continuity issues or other problems in the prosecution case.

Drug law is a highly specialised are and one which is best dealt with by criminal lawyers with specialist experience and up-to-date knowledge of the rules and procedures that apply to drug offences, and who deal with drug cases on a daily basis.

A good drug lawyer will be able to provide you with likely outcomes of your case, advice on how to plead as well as information about possible defences, ways to challenge or get police evidence kept out of court and how to ensure the best possible result in your particular case.

Ugur Nedim About Ugur Nedim
Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney’s Leading Firm of Criminal & Drug Defence Lawyers.

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