Innocent People Tricked Into Smuggling Drugs Across the U.S.-Mexico Border

If you need a reason to believe drug smugglers deserve a fair trial like anyone else, this is the story for you. A number of people have been used as unwitting vehicles to smuggle marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs across the Texas border into Mexico and vice versa.

For example, Ricardo Magallanes, a United States citizen and El Paso college student, was crossing the border into Mexico when the U.S. Border Patrol stopped his car and performed a search and seizure. The Border Patrol agent found 112 pounds of marijuana that had been stuffed into duffle bags sitting in his car trunk. Magallenes was shocked to learn about the marijuana and terrified about his fate. “I was wondering if I was going to spend years and years in prison.” The same thing happened to Jose Molina, a Mexican citizen with a long employment record and clean criminal history. He was given a free bus ride across the border to Houston; in exchange, he brought some saddles through U.S. customs. It turned out that the saddles were filled with cocaine worth $20,000.

Over and over, respectable people who crossed the border every day to earn a living were arrested for possessing drugs that they never knew were there. Of the five people arrested in El Paso, one was convicted by a jury and two pleaded guilty in order to face a reduced prison sentence.

According to Houston attorney Norm Silverman, “[t]his has been going on as long as there has been smuggling.” For a drug trafficker, having an unwitting courier is the best possible situation because that person won’t show the signs of nervousness that could be a tip off to law enforcement officials. The Department of Justice doesn’t keep track of how many federal cases involve unwitting couriers. However, 2009 figures show that of the 3,846 defendants charged with drug trafficking in the Houston to El Paso area, 126 were dismissed.

Magallanes was lucky. After refusing to plead guilty, he was convicted by a jury, and would have gone to prison if District Judge David Briones hadn’t stepped in. Judge Briones said that there was no evidence that Magallanes knew that the duffle bags were in his trunk. The judge might not have ever voiced his concerns if he hadn’t spoken to a colleague who presided over the same situation. The suspect in that case was found not guilty. Judge Briones’s suspicion led to a new federal investigation, where a confidential informant finally told the truth about what happened.

If you find yourself in this situation, you should find an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. A good attorney will know where to find the weak spots in the prosecution’s case and how to expose them in court. Of course, most people who transport drugs aren’t completely innocent. Even so, they might not have realized that even a small amount could lead to a lengthy prison sentence. Too many decent people could have their lives ruined by a mistake, and they needed an attorney to defend their interests.