Majority of drug traffickers sent to prison

Media release

14 February 2018

Almost all adults sentenced for drug trafficking receive a custodial penalty, new research from the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council has revealed.

The Sentencing Spotlight on trafficking in dangerous drugs examines sentencing outcomes for offences finalised in Queensland courts between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2016.

It reveals that over the 11-year period there were 2596 offenders sentenced for trafficking in dangerous drugs. For 2498 (96.2%) of these offenders, the drug trafficking offence was their most serious offence (MSO), of which 99.1% received a custodial sentence. The average prison sentence was 4.6 years — ranging from 6 months to 17 years.

The majority of offenders who received a custodial sentence were adults (2471). The average age of offenders was 34 years and the majority (83.7%) were male. Almost all offenders sentenced for drug trafficking as their MSO pleaded guilty (97.8%).

Only 13 young people were sentenced for drug trafficking, with 12 of these sentenced for drug trafficking as their MSO (0.5% of all drug trafficking MSO offenders sentenced over the period).

Currently trafficking of any dangerous drug is punishable by up to 25 years in prison for both schedule 1 drugs — such as cocaine, heroin, methylamphetamine (known as ice in its crystal form) and ecstasy — and schedule 2 drugs — such as cannabis, GHB and morphine.

Council member Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford said: “The maximum penalty for trafficking in dangerous drugs is 25 years, and is reserved for the worst examples of drug trafficking.

“There are a number of factors taken into account for the actual sentence handed down by the courts.

“These include the quantity and type of drugs, duration of and motivation for offending, plea, assistance to authorities and case law.”

Trafficking means carrying on a business. However, it covers a very wide range of behaviour and most drug trafficking does not involve the ‘Mr Bigs’. The majority of cases (83.3%) were heard in the Supreme Court.

The number of offenders sentenced for trafficking in dangerous drugs more than tripled over the review period. In 2005–06, 124 people were sentenced for this offence, compared with 413 in 2015–16.

Deputy Commissioner Linford added: “Offenders may also be sentenced for other offences at the same court hearing. The three most common associated offences were all drug related: possession of illicit drugs, other illicit drug offences, and dealing in illicit drugs.”

The Sentencing Spotlight provides a summary of the relevant legislation and sentencing outcomes that apply, an analysis of offender characteristics and the types of sentences offenders receive under Queensland law.

View the Sentencing Spotlight on trafficking in dangerous drugs

Sentence a drug trafficker through the Council’s online program Judge for Yourself