Massachusetts Drug Smuggling Cases: Are “Mules” Sometimes Victims, Too?

An arrest at Logan Airport earlier this week, alleging a Massachusetts drug offense, highlights an increasing problem in our nation’s increasingly ineffective “War on Drugs.”

The arrest and charges involve a drug mule. A “mule” is a drug courier, who more often than not is not suspected of being a drug dealer, or being a significant player in drug trafficking operations. Notwithstanding, the “mule” is the person who is charged with the crime of introducing the drug into Massachusetts. The mule in this case is one Karen Morla-Ramos, 22, a Dominican native who was arrested at Logan last Sunday, March 27 2011, after arriving on a JetBlue flight from Santo Domingo. State Police said they conducted a pat-down of Morla-Ramos after she acted suspiciously and found 1,040 grams of cocaine in a diaper-like garment she was carrying. It is often the case – though not always – that such “mules” have been forced, or at least pressured, by dealers in their home countries who are the kingpins and major players in the drug trade, to act as mules. Violence reigns in the drug trade. Very often, major drug dealers and traffickers in countries that are known to export illegal drugs, threaten or extort citizens of that country who are (quite literally) dirt poor and have no resources, to transport these drugs into the U.S., or face unthinkable results.

It’s not uncommon for a major drug trafficker to “loan” money to a poor family in a Third-World country, then come calling for repayment with huge interest suddenly attached to the loan. When the debtor can’t pay, they’re given a choice: Satisfy the debt by transporting drugs into the U.S. – where the major money is made – or face horrible consequences: The kidnapping or murder of their loved ones, or their own death. In circumstances less physically violent, but just as economically violent, poverty-wracked residents of Third-World countries such as the Dominican Republic, are offered what is billed by a major drug trafficker as “easy money”, to transport drugs aboard a flight to the U.S. While they know this is an illegal act, most of these “mules” are ignorant, uneducated, inexperienced, and uninformed about just how severe the risk is to them. Those realities don’t excuse the acts of these couriers, but it should, in fairness, provide some context.

The preferred smuggling method for most of these foreign drug cartels and kingpins is to have the courier swallow rubber packets of illegal drugs – usually cocaine or heroin – which (if the courier is lucky,) are later defecated, intact, after the courier’s arrival in the U.S. To make the transport financially “effective” for the trafficker in the originating country, dozens of these rubber packets must be swallowed by the courier – one by one. If just one packet were to either burst or become otherwise perforated inside the person’s digestive tract, death would almost certainly ensue. To illustrate just how violent the illegal drug trade is, if the ingested packets became for some reason trapped in the courier’s digestive system, or the courier could not eliminate all of them from his body, dealers on the U.S. end, who meet the courier at the airport, house them and guard them until all packets are eliminated and accounted for – will kill the courier and cut out the drugs from the dead body.

The barbarity and savagery of this business are fueled by the enormous profit involved – profit created by one things: Prohibition, which creates the black market in the first place. I’ve written previously about how drug prohibition causes far more crime and resulting misery than responsible legalization, regulation and taxation would ever cause, but that’s another story – and a lengthy one. For very authoritative and concise presentations of that argument, visit www.leap.com; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is an organization of former police and law enforcement professionals, lawyers and judges who are committed to the reality that making drugs illegal only costs society far, far more in terms of tragedy and economic loss than legalization, regulation and taxation ever would. Take a look at their site.

Back to today’s post: Increasingly, traffickers in exporting countries have chosen women to act as these mules. Like bombing terrorists, they apparently assume that a woman would not typically be suspected of being involved in such an illegal act. This was portrayed very clearly in a recent film called “Maria Full of Grace“, which told this kind of story quite well.

The irony is that it is often the courier or “mule”, who bears the legal brunt of all this activity – nowhere near as much as the major traffickers and cartel operators abroad. Though not always, very often it is the major players in the exporting countries that remain out of reach of Massachusetts law. And the legal penalties for these couriers are extremely severe. Massachusetts drug laws provide for mandatory minimum sentencing for many of these offenses. For example, for anyone convicted, (or agreeing to a plea that legally equates to a conviction,) of transporting cocaine in excess of 200 grams into Massachusetts, that person faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in state prison; M.G.L. Ch. 94C, Sec. 32E. Most cases involving mules from outside the U.S. trigger these mandatory sentencing provisions, simply due to the high amounts of the drug introduced into Massachusetts, in order maximize drug profits (penalties increase in relation to amounts of a drug seized.)

I’ve blogged previously about the unfairness of unproductiveness of mandatory minimum sentencing, which ties judges’ hands regardless of the underlying facts of a case. But what can often make matters worse, is the the real “bad guys” in this drama – the cartel operators and major traffickers – often remain untouched. But that doesn’t change existing Massachusetts drug laws, and as a Boston, Massachusetts drug offenses lawyer, I use over twenty years’ experience in providing my clients the best legal defense possible.

Not because all these clients are innocent, but because one of them might be.