Smuggling goods is a crime related to customs and border enforcement in the US. It occurs when people purposefully smuggle contraband over the border with the intent of concealing it from law enforcement. The severity of the penalties for this crime depend on the contraband and the intent in using it. It is a very serious federal crime that can come with prison sentences of multiple years.
The laws of customs in the US regulate what materials can be imported into the country. Some materials can be imported, but they need to be officially declared and reported to the appropriate agency. Others can’t be imported at all. In addition, people need to pay taxes on the items they import, and smuggling can sometimes allow them to evade these taxes.
Customs law is a complex area that many lawyers spend their entire lives studying. There are financial costs to importing and exporting goods internationally. The goal of these costs is to incentivize people to manufacture and consume items created within US borders, as this strengthens the economy.
However, some people try to avoid the restrictions by giving false documentation to officials. They might also use secret shipping routes to avoid having their shipments examined by customs officials at all.
When a person does either of these things, they have smuggled goods. If they are caught, they can be prosecuted for criminal activity at a federal level.
There are a whopping fifteen different statutes that discuss crimes related to customs. The laws are complicated, and prosecuting a case can be a headache. If you violate any of the laws, you might face civil and criminal penalties, even if you didn’t realize you were in violation.
People who are charged with smuggling goods are also often charged with other customs crimes in conjunction. One of the most common is false declarations, which is when a person falsely states what they have in their shipment. Another is importing violations, which is when a person purposefully breaks import laws regarding their materials.
When a person is charged with smuggling goods, the prosecutor must prove several elements of the crime. If any of these elements cannot be proven, then the person must be found innocent. These are the pieces that are necessary to get a conviction:
If a prosecutor can’t prove all of these elements, they may drop the charge to a lesser offense that they can prove more easily. A skilled defense lawyer can help to mount the best possible legal defense for your particular case.
Smuggling charges can be brought against someone who brings merchandise into the US without declaring it, regardless of how they bring it in. Maybe it was snuck over the borders. Maybe it was declared falsely as something else. Maybe it was brought in via a private airplane. Regardless of the method, the action is still illegal.
If the defendant made a false report of their goods so they could avoid financial consequences, they might also be found guilty of smuggling.
These pieces most commonly occur in cases where the goods are technically legal, but a person would need to pay extra taxes on them. For example, tobacco is subject to much higher taxes than a lot of other imported goods.
You might also smuggle illegal contraband into the US. This is a separate type of case, but it falls under the same jurisdiction. If you purposefully import illegal items into the US, or you buy or sell or conceal illegal items while inside the US, you might be found guilty of smuggling. As a buyer, you can be considered part of a smuggling ring even if you had nothing to do with the initial import.
This means that you can be charged with smuggling if you buy items from someone who smuggled them over the border. You don’t need to have gone anywhere near the border yourself.
There are also a variety of statutes that are related to the smuggling goods criminal statute. These crimes might be charged in conjunction with or instead of a smuggling goods crime. The crimes that prosecutors choose to pursue will vary depending on the exact circumstances, the evidence they have, and the severity of the infractions.
If you are found guilty of smuggling goods, you might suffer serious criminal penalties. In severe cases, you can be sentenced to up to 20 years of prison time along with fees and fines.
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