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County Lines

What is county lines in the context of drugs investigations?

County lines is a term that in years gone by was used only in reference to geographical borders. However more recently, particularly in the UK, the term has taken on a darker meaning. County lines is name for the process of supplying drugs from one, usually more urbanized, area to another. The clandestine operation, also known as ‘going country,’ will typically involve urban drug dealers expanding their reach into smaller suburban or rural areas. These areas may or may not already have an existing drug problem. Key features include the use of ‘youngers’ as couriers and street dealers as well as a process known as ‘cuckooing’. This involves commandeering an address usually occupied by a vulnerable drug user as a base for drug supply activities.

Why do dealers do county lines?

It is an attractive method for urban dealers to make easy money. This is because in the bigger cities there exists more competition for territory, leading to violent encounters. The high levels of ubran competition can also drive down prices. When faced with a county lines operation, small town dealers are often less equipped for a ‘turf war’, and may not be able to compete on price with metropolitan suppliers who can benefit from the economies of scale.

Who is at risk in relation to county lines drug dealing?

County Lines will operations often prey on younger, more impressionable individuals. They may employ grooming tactics or simply use intimidation to get what they want. Teens or young adults will often be required to ‘mule’ drugs from the bigger cities into the smaller towns. Once there they may be required to meet other members of the county lines operation and hand over the drugs. They may be required to stay in the area and undertake ‘street dealing’ or they may simply be sent back the way they came to collect more drugs. Those who are in charge are take the least risk and are rarely caught with illicit substances. It is those lower in the hierarchy who are at the highest risk of being arrested, charged or convicted.

What is the sentence for those convicted of county lines drugs offences?

Those suspected of supplying drugs as part of a county lines operation are at serious risk of facing time in prison. When sentencing for drug offences judges first consider the level of harm followed by the level of culpability. The harm is usually determined by the quantity of the drug involved. However if the offender is supplying a even small amount of directly to users (street dealing) then they are placed a category 3. The judge would then consider culpability by deciding whether they played a leading, significant or lesser role. The starting point for an adult in significant role engaged in street dealing of Class A Drugs is 4.5 years in custody. Leading role has a starting point of 8 years 6 months and lesser role has a starting point of 3 years. Sentences are significantly lower for those convicted before they turn 18 but the perilous situation they face is still clear to see.

Can you avoid prison for county lines drugs sentences?

In many cases a prison sentence is all but inevitable for drugs sentencing. However, those who are represented by a solicitor with expertise in the area may have a chance of avoiding prison or at least benefitting from a significant reduction in their sentence. It may be possible to establish a defense under Modern Slavery legislation. This would apply if there is sufficient evidence that a young or vulnerable person was exploited or groomed into their involvement in drug supply. Alternatively, if the defendant pleads guilty and their lawyer makes carefully considered submissions on sentence highlighting their lesser role this could, when combined with credit for a guilty plea, result in them avoiding an immediate prison sentence. Those convicted whilst under the age of 18 will benefit from the Youth Sentencing regime and have a far better chance of avoiding custody.

What should I do if my child or loved one is arrested in relation to a county lines investigation?

The best thing you can do is to seek the advice of an expert solicitor. They can attend the police station to give legal advice to those being interviewed or if the person arrested has been charged they can represent them during the court proceedings. At Olliers we have the right expertise to ensure that your loved one is faces the best chance of gaining the best possible outcome either at court or the police station.

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