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Sentencing for the importation of drugs

What is the sentence for the importation of drugs in 2024?

Importation of drugs is classified as a serious crime which can result in a lengthy period of imprisonment. Crimes of this nature are viewed as serious as they are usually connected to career drug dealers. These crimes are also considered to be at the heart of the illegal drug trade and provide large scale supply to the smaller drug dealers who then distribute them, in some cases all over the UK.

importation of drugs

In addition to the importation of street drugs, there is a concern that fake pharmaceutical drugs are being imported into the country. Whether the crime is importation of drugs or the exportation of drugs, the sentencing is relatively similar.

You may have read about importation of drug cases in the news where somebody has been asked to bring a bag or parcel to a friend. When the person arrives at the airport, they discover that inside the bag there is a concealed cavity that contains a large quantity of Class A drugs. There has recently been a case where a couple were found to be carrying a large amount of cocaine. The couple were of modest means but were regularly taking cruise ship holidays.

If you’ve been identified as somebody whom the police want to interview or investigate as part of a drug importation case, then you’ll understandably find this to be a very worrying time. You may be concerned that you won’t be able to pay your rent or mortgage, you may worry your family won’t have enough income to eat. Your entire world will feel unstable, unsettled and uncertain.

On this page we have some of the most common questions that our clients ask, with their answers. We aim to provide you with the guidance and support that you need at this difficult time. If you have a question, but you cannot find the answer here, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. You can call us on  0208 888 5225

Read more information about the offence of Importation of drugs

What type of actions are considered Importation of Drugs?

Sentencing is not only decided by looking at what took place but also what your role was in the crime.  Here are some examples of importation of drug situations that may have led to the situation at hand.

Bringing steroids to the UK for personal use – classified as Class C drugs, it is illegal to import or export steroids, even for personal use. You are likely to be given a financial penalty and a customs record.

Unknowingly bringing a large quantity of a Class A drug inside a lorry that has been travelling in Europe – for instance, smuggling drugs into the UK inside a truck and smuggling large quantities of money out using a lorry or other vehicle.

Purposefully hiding a class B drug inside a concealed container in a suitcase when travelling – depending on where you are going to, there could be severe repercussions. For example, if you arrive in Thailand with drugs, you may be given the death penalty. If you get caught taking drugs to the United States, you may never be able to enter the US again, and you will receive a criminal record in the UK.

Failure to declare prescription drugs that you have brought from abroad – it’s recommended that you ask your doctor or a pharmacist whether your medicine contains a controlled drug. It’s important to know what the laws are in both the country you’re leaving and visiting.

In some cases, an innocent error may have been made, for example, if you didn’t know that you had to declare a small number of prescription drugs. It is no longer considered to be a viable excuse if you bring a package for a third party from abroad without checking what is inside it. You will be held responsible if it contains drugs.

What is the average sentence for the importation of drugs?

Importing drugs or the importation of drugs offence is considered serious by the courts as it can cause undue harm to others. Young people can become addicted and in some cases, can even die from using drugs.

The sentence that is typically given for conviction ranges between the maximum sentence of life imprisonment with anywhere between 3.5 years and 16 years custody for a Class A drug trafficking offence to a community order for something relatively minor.

What to do if you’ve been arrested for importation of drugs

If you’ve been arrested or asked to visit the police station, it’s recommended that you make contact with a legal professional. The goal of the police is to convict people, so they will use any of the methods that they have been taught to do so during the interview.

During this police interview, the focus will typically be on trying to get you to incriminate yourself. The police will not declare all the evidence they have against you in the hope that you will say something that will not help your case but will help them to convict you.

By taking the guidance of a legal professional who has experience in cases related to the importation of drugs, you’ll be provided with details about what to say and what not to say in your interview. Your lawyer will also ask whether the police have any further evidence that they not yet declared.

The lawyer will then work on creating the best defence strategy to help you to get the best possible outcome if your case goes to court. In some cases, the lawyer may even be able to get your case dismissed before it reaches the court stage.

If necessary, your solicitor will take the evidence that the police have against you and get it inspected by expert witnesses such as mobile phone experts. They may also ask expert witnesses to provide information for the police/ prosecutors to study.

By not taking a legal professional to the police interview with you, you could put yourself into a situation where it’s not possible for a lawyer to do much to help you.

How does a court decide on the seriousness of the importation of drugs offence for sentencing purposes? 

The information that judges are given with regards to sentencing are only guidelines, and each case will be looked at individually. One of the primary factors that judges consider in every case of this nature is the defendant’s level of genuine remorse.

In addition to looking closely at what the role was you played in the crime, the following factors are considered when the court decides which sentence to give. The court will look at:

  • Your previous conviction(s)
  • Your level of remorse
  • Your level of cooperation with the investigation
  • Whether the activity you took part in was originally legitimate
  • Your reputation / good character
  • Whether you have any serious medical conditions that require long term, urgent or intensive treatment
  • Whether you have a learning disability or a mental disorder
  • Whether you are the sole or primary carer for related dependents

What are some of the mitigating factors that might reduce the importation of drugs sentence?

Certain aspects of a case are known as the mitigating aspects which can influence the sentence that a judge gives. In importation of drugs cases, they may include:

  • Whether the defendant is disabled or mentally ill
  • The age of the defendant, i.e. if they are particularly young, their age may affect their level of responsibility
  • If there are previous, relevant or recent convictions
  • Suspect shows a considerable degree of genuine remorse
  • A previous good character with exemplary conduct
  • If there is a learning disability or mental disorder linked to this offence
  • There have been demonstrative steps made to address this behaviour

Is it possible to reduce a sentence for importation of drugs with a guilty plea?

In recent years, a number of changes have been made to the sentencing system in the UK to save the court time and cost and to protect witnesses from the stress of needlessly going through a trial. For offenders aged 18 and over, pleading guilty early on in a case can reduce a sentence by as much as one third (maximum). The later the plea is entered, the smaller the reduction.

  • ‘Early on’ refers to ‘the first stage of the proceedings’ and means anytime up to and including the first hearing at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court for indictable offences.
  • If a plea is entered 14 days after the first hearing, for example, the maximum level of reduction is just 20% or one fifth of the sentence. For indictable offences, the limit for a guilty plea to be made is within 28 days after the prosecutor has stated compliance with section 3 of CPIA 1996 and serving disclosure; although the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Judge who has discretion to apply whatever credit is deemed appropriate.
  • After these times there is a sliding scale of credit applied. This goes down to one tenth on the first day of the trial and to zero if entered during the course of the trial. In theory, the ten percent could be given if the plea is issued after the opening speeches on the first day, but prior to any witness evidence being heard.

If the accused does not want to plead guilty, then it’s important for the solicitor to regularly inform the court throughout the trial of the reasons why the client’s plea is not guilty.

What are some of the other consequences of importation of drugs offence?

Ancillary Orders

A court can also make ancillary orders on a defendant if they are found guilty and convicted of an offence. These are extra elements that can be added to a sentence and include additional restrictions or requirements that affect a dependent’s finances, property or activity.

Ancillary orders that are typically added to the penalty for those who are found to be guilty of digital piracy copyright include:

  • Compensation for loss
  • Restraint orders
  • Reparation orders
  • Financial reporting order
  • Confiscation orders

As part of your investigation, you may also have your assets frozen with the possibility of having cash or other assets seized.

In addition, the court may demand payment of the following if the accused is convicted:

Payment of costs applied for by the prosecutors

Although the police meet some of the costs involved in the prosecution, the costs of investigation are typically sought from the convicted. These may include the costs of:

  • The work done in obtaining sufficient evidence for prosecution either at the initial stage or later at the request of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • Seeking medical or expert evidence as part of the investigation, (where a witness is required to attend Court, the cost of the attendance falls on the CPS).
  • Re-interviewing witnesses
  • The entire costs of the prosecutor, including fees for the use of external Barristers used by the CPS, can be recovered from the defendant, subject to means. At the end of the case, the prosecutor under The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 will request the Judge to order a sum to be paid for the costs incurred by the prosecutor in bringing the prosecution.

Victims surcharges

The term victims’ surcharges can be explained as paying compensation to a fund for victims and can range between £20 to £170 depending on what sentence you were given at conviction.

How sentences can be added to national information databases

There are several national databases that hold information about individuals and any allegations made about them, their criminal and court records. These include the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) which was previously known as the CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) and the Police National Computer (PNC).  Depending on what happened, whether the accused is convicted and what sentence was issued, the accused may be added to one or all these databases. Their purpose is to provide information to potential employers and to regulate the ability to take part in certain activities.

If your case progresses to court and you are convicted of importation of drugs offences,  your conviction will be noted on your CRB / police record. The period of the endorsement will depend on the nature and length of your sentence.

Below are details on how long you will be listed as holding a criminal record if convicted. This is something very serious to consider when it comes to future employment. The term ‘spent’ refers to when your name can be removed from the databases.

Rehabilitation Period
(the time it takes for the sentence to become ‘spent’)
Sentence Adult (aged 18+) at time of conviction Young person (aged under 18) at time of conviction
Prison sentences of more than 4 years Sentence is never spent Sentence is never spent
Prison sentences of more than 2.5 years (30 months) but less than 4 years Sentence length 7 years Sentence length 3.5 years
Prison sentences of more than 6 months but less than 2.5 years (30 months) Sentence length +4 years Sentence length +2 years
Prison sentences of less than 6 months Sentence length + 2 years Sentence length +18 months
Conditional Discharge Length of order Length of order
Absolute Discharge None None
Conditional Caution 3 months 3 months
Simple Caution / Youth Caution None – immediately ‘spent’ None – immediately ‘spent’
Other Including Compensation Order, Supervision Order, Bind Over, Hospital Order Length of the order / once compensation is paid Length of the order / once compensation is paid

How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?

Our criminal solicitors have defended those accused of importation of drugs offences for decades. We have defended those duped by foreign third parties and manipulated to deliver a ‘bag to a friend’ which inevitably conceals Class A Drugs, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have defended those organising and facilitating the importation of hundreds of kilos of Class A Drugs. Whether you are accused of being the mastermind, the distributor, the courier or the supplier of Imported Drugs, our Criminal Solicitors will do their absolute best to achieve your desired objectives in the case.

Given the seriousness of importation of drugs charges and the very long sentences they attract, our criminal solicitors like to contest the allegations from the front foot. We will not sit around idly for the prosecution to build the case against you and react when they want. We are proud of being pro-active criminal solicitors always looking for that vital grain of evidence or legal anomaly to defeat the prosecution.

Defending importation of Drugs Allegations

The prosecution must prove that there was importation into the UK, that you evaded the prohibition or restriction on the drugs that you were concerned with the importation. As to the mental element, the prosecution must also prove that you knew that the goods were prohibited or restricted. This duty on the prosecution is a strict one. You may be convicted of attempted importation if the facts justify it but it is the role of our Criminal Solicitors to stand by your side at every step of the case, to guide you and to challenge the prosecution.

Whilst you are deemed ‘innocent until proven guilty, the best strategy is to adopt an aggressive stance and fight against all wrongful and inaccurate accusations at all time.

Our criminal solicitors have over 30 years’ experience with defending importation of drugs offences. Our experience means that we can advise on strategic matters from the outset. We have vast experience of representing clients when being interviewed by the police. If you own your home or have valuable assets, even before the charge, the prosecution may apply for a Restraint Order to freeze your assets.

Cases of this nature demand talented lawyering and expert third-party assistance. We engage some of the best expert Criminal Barristers in the UK to assist our clients in persuading the jury in our favour. We resort to all kinds of forensic analysts when we are scrutinising mobile phone evidence, computer evidence, financial records and other evidence which requires an expert from a different profession.

Get in touch with us at any time, whether you have been arrested, invited to the police station or you would just like to discuss a potential case with us and what may help to support you in not being convicted. Our lawyers have deep experience in cases of importation of drugs and can provide you with the guidance you need for the best possible outcome.

Would you like to discuss your case before instructing us?

If you’d like to have a no-obligation chat with us before you instruct us to take your case, then call us today.

In addition to giving you a free consultation, we can also represent you at the police station if you’ve been arrested. We can look at securing your legal aid.

Please Contact Us and ask to speak to our drugs offence lawyers and importation of drugs solicitors to arrange a meeting in person, online or by telephone. If you prefer, you can WhatsApp us from the link you will find at the bottom banner if you open this page on your mobile phone device.

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