Can Cigarettes be Considered Illegal Contraband under Federal Law?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

cigarettes, contraband, Illinois defense attorney, Chicago defense attorney, We often hear about police stopping a car and discovering illegal drugs such as cocaine or marijuana.

But cigarettes?

Although legal, cigarettes are heavily taxed and regulated in Illinois and other states. In fact, it is a federal crime to sell, transport or otherwise distribute “contraband cigarettes.” In this context, “contraband” means any quantity greater than 10,000 cigarettes where there is no evidence the person in possession paid the required state and local taxes.

For example, under Illinois law, a cigarette package must contain a stamp indicating payment of the state's tax. Any cigarettes sold within Illinois borders without such a stamp is considered contraband. Thus, if a person brought a shipment of 30,000 cigarettes from Ohio to Illinois without paying Illinois tax, that would violate both state and federal law.

Defending Against Illegal Contraband Charges

The most common way that a person may face a charge related to illegal substances is following a police search after a vehicle stop. Typically, an officer will pull a driver over for violating some traffic law and then conduct a search of the vehicle, where he finds the substances. Importantly, officers do not automatically have the right to search a car without a warrant. If charged with a crime stemming from the search, you defense attorney will closely examine the details around the search to ensure it was valid.

There are many exceptions to the warrant requirement, however, and assuming one of those exceptions were met, you may need to look at other options in defending against the charge. When it comes to cigarettes, for example, one way to defend against contraband charges is showing that the prosecution did not prove that you intended to sell the contraband cigarettes. It is still a misdemeanor to transport contraband cigarettes (regardless of intent to sell), but this defense can beat back the more serious felony charges.

In fact, courts have found that prosecutors must specifically prove that a defendant intended to sell the contraband cigarettes in a specific state. Just assuming that resale will happen somewhere may be insufficient in order to convict. Prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant was planning to dispose of the cigarettes in a specific state.

Decisions Often Come Down to Small Details

While this may sound like a case of a defendant getting off on a technicality, in reality the law is all about these details. Police and prosecutors must be held to specific burdens of proof to ensure the rights of all Americans are respected. That is why, if you or someone you know is facing serious state or federal charges, it is essential you have a criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in the technicalities of the law. Contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you have any questions.

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