Drug distribution cases: what is liquid meth, and how can you defend someone accused of smuggling it? Federal drug trafficking attorney John Helms weighs in.
There have been recent reports about a 16-year-old boy who died after US Customs and Border Protection agents told him to drink from a bottle containing liquid methamphetamine. The boy was crossing the border from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, when agents inspected his backpack and found two bottles of liquid they believed to be liquid methamphetamine. The boy told the agents it was apple juice. The agents challenged him to drink from a bottle if it was really apple juice. He did, and he went into convulsions and died shortly afterward, reports federal drug trafficking attorney John Helms.
So what is liquid methamphetamine (“meth”)? When I was a federal prosecutor in Dallas, a lot of the meth cases we prosecuted involved local “meth labs” in which individual “meth cooks” made meth in houses or even mobile trailers using ingredients like cold tablets, matches, camera batteries, lye, and ammonia used in making fertilizer. Times have changed since then.
Now, most meth comes from “super labs” in Mexico that produce large quantities of meth that is cheaper and of higher quality than what local meth cooks make. In recent years, more and more of the meth coming from Mexico is in liquid form. It usually has a dull gold or amber color that looks somewhat like apple juice. The liquid meth is smuggled into the United States, converted into crystal or powder form locally, and then sold, adds Dallas drug defense lawyer Helms.
Smuggling meth in liquid form makes it easier to disguise. It can be put into bottles and disguised as a drink, like juice or tequila. Sometimes, liquid meth is put into large containers for antifreeze or other automotive liquids.
Vehicles crossing the border are sometimes inspected by x-ray or by pinging parts of the undercarriage with a hammer to see whether something is solid when it should not be. Both of these methods are good at detecting hidden compartments or solid masses that should not be where they are.
Liquid meth allows smugglers to hide the meth in places where liquid should be expected, like windshield wiper fluid containers and gas tanks. Smugglers sometimes modify gas tanks by partitioning them so that liquid meth is in one part, and gasoline is in the other. Since liquid meth is heavier than gasoline, it is also possible to fill the bottom of a gas tank with a liquid meth solution and have gasoline float on top. The vehicle then siphons off the gasoline from the top layer.
The laws against distributing liquid meth are no different from those against distributing crystal meth. The fact that someone is driving a car or truck with liquid meth hidden inside does not automatically mean that the person is guilty of distribution. The government still has to prove that the person was aware that they were transporting illegal drugs.
Sometimes, a person may be recruited to drive a vehicle across the border to someplace in the United States without knowing that it contains drugs hidden inside. After all, if the drugs are hidden to prevent law enforcement from finding them, then they may be hidden well enough so that the driver does not know about them.
Law enforcement has a lot of ways to find circumstantial evidence that a driver knew or had to know what they were doing. In defending people accused of transporting illegal drugs, it is important to know about the techniques used to recruit people, the techniques for hiding drugs, and how law enforcement tries to prove that the accused was aware of the drugs. Of course, it is also critical to look at the way the accused was stopped and how the drugs were found to determine whether law enforcement violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the accused against unreasonable searches and seizures.
As a former federal prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer, I have seen the tactics of both drug distribution and law enforcement change over the years. I have also closely studied and applied changes in the law of searches and seizures.
Drug distribution is a very serious crime. It can result in very long prison sentences that may get even longer due to changes under the Trump Administration. Anyone accused of drug distribution should have an experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable drug defense lawyer to make sure that their rights are thoroughly protected.
If you or a family member have been charged with a federal drug crime or any other drug related crime in Dallas or the nearby counties and have any questions about drug laws, contact federal drug trafficking lawyer John Helms at 214-666-8010 or fill out this online contact form. We can talk about the situation, how the law could apply in your case and the best legal options to protect your rights and maintain your freedom.