Alejandro Salinas Garcia, 31, and Cesar Sierro-Pineda, 34, are to spend life in prison following sentencing in separate cases, both filed in federal court. Garcia was convicted of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, having imported more than 1,300 pounds (600KG) of the drug into the United States in an operation lasting from 2002 to 2009. Pineda was convicted of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine. He was trafficking on behalf of the Mexican cartel, La Familia Michoacana and imported crystal meth, known as "ice" on the street.
While these two men were convicted of trafficking, it is important to note that not everyone who sells drugs is found guilty of trafficking. Under North Carolina law, one must possess and or sell a minimum amount of specific narcotics to be considered a drug trafficker. For example, one must possess, transport or sell a minimum of ten pounds of marijuana or a minimum of 28 grams of cocaine to be considered a trafficker. In the majority of cases, traffickers face mandatory prison time under North Carolina law. Sentences range from a minimum of 25 to a maximum of 282 months, depending on how large an amount of a given narcotic they were convicted of possessing, transporting or selling. The same punishments apply for conspiracy to traffic in any of the specified drugs. The law also provides for mandatory fines ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.
Federal law by contrast allows for life sentences for some offenses, including conspiracy to traffic in narcotics. Generally, drug traffickers are sentenced only under one system, though they can theoretically be prosecuted under both federal and state law.
Under North Carolina law, the only exception to mandatory jail time is when a defendant cooperates with authorities in catching other drug traffickers (i.e. snitching). In these cases, depending on how good the information is and how serious the offense is, the judge may decide to reduce or eliminate the fines and/or active prison time.
If you have been accused of drug trafficking in North Carolina, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you. The right attorney may be able to get your sentence reduced or have evidence thrown out of court depending on the specific circumstances of your arrest.