If you take frequent day trips to the U.S., you're probably familiar with the process of going through the border crossing. However, the transportation of prescription narcotics across the border can sometimes result in stiff penalties and jail time, even if the drugs are legally prescribed to you. What happens if you are arrested or detained for transporting narcotics from Canada to the U.S.? Read on to learn more about how these types of situations are handled under U.S. and Canadian law, as well as steps you can take to prevent yourself from being arrested -- and what to do if you do find yourself in police custody on either side of the border.
How should you transport narcotics across the border?
When bringing narcotics with you on your trip, there are a number of restrictions of which you should be aware. Even if you're planning only a short trip, you may be able to take up to a 90-day supply of medications with you -- but only if this medication is not available in the U.S. Otherwise, you'll need to have your physician call the prescription in to a U.S. pharmacy where you can pick it up once you've already crossed the border.
Always ensure your medication is packaged in its original container and your full legal name is clearly labeled. Placing prescription medication into an unlabeled bottle or "mixing" it into one prescription bottle will nearly always ensure that these medications will be confiscated at the border -- and you may even be detained or arrested for attempting to transport medication that isn't clearly prescribed to you.
What happens if you are detained or arrested at the border?
If you don't abide by the prescription drug transportation laws of Canada and the U.S. during your border crossing, you may find yourself in legal hot water. Under U.S. law, the importation and sale of prescription narcotics is a federal offense. In addition, depending upon the laws of the state into which you're crossing, you may be subject to additional penalties.
In general, unless you are traveling with a felony quantity of narcotics, you'll be arrested and processed at a nearby jail, then released to return home until your first court hearing. Although many state courts handle arraignments only during banker's hours, in the larger border crossing cities, there are arrest processing facilities that have judicial officers available at night and on the weekends to ensure that you are quickly released after arrest.
If you are traveling with a felony amount of medication, your time in jail may be extended. Depending upon the planned length of your stay and the amount of medication you brought, you may be charged with smuggling with the intent to sell, rather than mere transportation.
What should you do if you are arrested?
Your first step upon arrest should be to contact an attorney who is familiar with U.S. drug importation laws. Even if you are quickly arraigned and released, you should seek legal counsel to help prepare you for your trial. In many cases, demonstrating that you made a good faith attempt to comply with drug importation laws will help minimize any potential penalties you face. Rather than being sentenced to serve jail time, your sentence may instead be commuted to probation.
If you're facing a felony charge, your need for an attorney is even more serious. Being convicted of a felony in the U.S. can prevent you from being permitted to travel to or within the country, even on business or for family functions. In most cases, particularly if you have no criminal history, a criminal defense lawyer will be able to help you obtain a plea bargain that will result in a reduced sentence.