Fri 05 May, 2023 Criminal Defense

How Do Drug Dealers Get Caught?

When people sell illegal drugs, they always face the risk of being arrested and charged with criminal drug offenses. Ultimately, drug dealers will never have a foolproof way to guarantee that they won’t get caught and charged with drug crimes. Obviously, the safest course of action is not to sell drugs.

When a person gets caught selling drugs and faces criminal charges, one of several common scenarios has likely occurred.

The Buyer Testifies Against the Dealer

At the heart of any case is a witness who can testify about what they observed. In drug sale cases, the prosecution’s star witness is always the person who alleges he purchased drugs from the defendant. Witnesses who observed drug sales, but were not the buyer, may be enough to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the seller is guilty, although the prosecution always tries to get the buyer to testify when they can.

A buyer who testifies against the seller typically falls into two categories, either an undercover officer or an informant.

Undercover Officer

Undercover officers are typically the strongest sort of witness that the prosecution can use against a drug dealer because they are more reliable and don’t necessarily have the same sort of credibility issues as most informants.

Generally, an undercover will have information that a person is a drug dealer. The undercover will then attempt to connect with the drug dealer to engage in a drug transaction. Undercover officers will often have hidden video cameras on them when they transact with the dealer. However, video footage is not required. After a transaction occurs, the undercover will voucher the drugs as arrest evidence. The undercover will typically use prerecorded buy money—meaning that the serial numbers of the money have been logged before the transaction. If the dealer is later arrested with the prerecorded buy money, such evidence will be used against the dealer in court.


Broadly speaking, an informant is someone who has a criminal history and is given some benefit for participating in drug investigations. Such benefits can include money or leniency with a pending criminal case.

When an informant is offered leniency for a pending criminal case, he is typically called a “cooperator,” and he has received a proffer agreement for cooperating with the prosecution. The informant does not need to be charged with a drug crime to become an informant for a drug case. For instance, an informant could be charged with murder, yet he knows about players in the drug trade and has previously bought from the dealer. By cooperating with law enforcement, he may be able to get a reduced sentence for his case, even though he is not charged with a drug offense.

When the buyer is an informant, a skilled defense attorney can highlight the ways in which the informant has a motive to lie, either through receiving money or a reduced sentence.

Busted By An Unrelated Arrest

Sometimes drug dealers get busted even when there is no witness who observed a sale. These cases are charged not as drug sales but instead as drug possession with the intent to sell. In other words, the amount of drugs found with the dealer was so much that it wasn’t for personal use, and the dealer therefore clearly had the intent to sell the drugs.

A dealer can get busted for possession with intent to sell in a variety of ways.

For instance, if a dealer is pulled over in his car for a DUI and the police find drugs in the car after doing an inventory search, then the dealer may get charged with felony drug possession.

Another way a dealer may get caught for drugs after an unrelated search can happen when the police are called for an emergency. For example, if a couple is at home, gets into a fight, and then a spouse calls the police for domestic violence, the police can enter the home without a warrant to make sure the alleged victim is safe. If the police see many bundles of drugs lying around when they enter the home, they could also make an arrest for drugs.

However, sometimes people facing drug charges are falsely arrested by the police. When a person is stopped and searched without probable cause, a criminal defense lawyer can try to convince the court to suppress the evidence, which means that the evidence unlawfully obtained cannot be used against the defendant in court.

How the Prosecution Builds Their Case

After a person is arrested for selling drugs, the prosecution will try to build their case. Although a witness to a drug transaction can be enough for a criminal conviction, the prosecution will often get other evidence that makes their case stronger.

An important piece of evidence is cell phone records. The prosecution will have a stronger case if it can establish the phone number the defendant was using and show that he was calling the buyer. Oftentimes, the cell phone of the dealer is seized, and the prosecution tries to obtain a search warrant to examine the phone. If the dealer’s phone contains drug-related messages, the chances of conviction are higher. Although the use of burner phones or new IMSI numbers can make it more difficult for the prosecution to establish phone usage, the prosecution has incredible resources and sometimes make incredible connections that show how a defendant used a particular number.

The prosecution may also try to introduce cell-site records, which show the areas where a cell phone was located when it made calls. If the prosecution can show that the defendant’s phone was near the location of the drug sale, such evidence will help the prosecution build a stronger case.

Of course, the prosecution needs to prove that the substances in question are in fact illegal drugs. The prosecution will have the substances analyzed by lab technicians, who will create lab reports showing whether the substances in question are illegal drugs.

Need Help? Contact an NYC Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime in New York City, give NYC criminal defense lawyer Cody Warner a call or contact him online for a free consultation. Cody can analyze your case to determine the best defense strategy for moving forward.