Everyone knows that it is illegal to sell drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin, but most people are unaware that under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, using a cell phone or email to set up a drug deal constitutes a separate and distinct criminal offense, aside from the actual drug delivery. This offense is known as “criminal use of a communications facility,” and it is a third degree felony punishable by up to seven years in state prison and a $15,000 fine. Criminal use of a communications facility applies to drug sellers using devices like phones or email to set up drug deals, but it does not apply to those using such devices to buy drugs.
Not only is it a felony to make drug deals through phone calls, text messages, FaceBook instant messages, or even old-fashioned snail mail, but it is also a sure-fire way to get caught. In a typical scenario, a drug detective will instruct a confidential informant, who is working with the police to get a better outcome in his own case, to text or call a targeted dealer. When the target foolishly makes arrangements to sell drugs on a cell phone registered in his name or in his parents’ name, and the deal then takes place in his apartment, it is hard to later argue at trial that someone else sold the drugs, and the confidential informant is falsely accusing him.
Not surprisingly, “professional drug dealers,” are often savvy enough not to incriminate themselves by texting and taking calls on cell phones, which can be traced to them, as professional drug dealers have been schooled by more experienced members of the illegal drug underworld. They will either use track phones, or they will simply make arrangements to meet people for a drug deal, without ever discussing anything about drugs. If both the customer and dealer know the purpose of the meeting, there is no need to spell it out in a text message. It is the naive college student dealers, in over their heads, who so often fall right into the trap of incriminating themselves with text messages. And the fact that they refer to marijuana as “tree” does not create any sort of plausible deniability, unless they happen to own a tree nursery.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA with extensive experience defending defendants in drug cases. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Drug-Felonies.shtml