The case of Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, the two British twenty year old women accused of drugs smuggling in Peru, has been very high profile in the British press. It looks like it is heading to a conclusion, after they both pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle 11kg of cocaine.
What sentence will they get?
As a result, they will both be sentenced to 6½ years imprisonment. On the basis that the guilty plea was under Art 297 Penal Code (‘Serious Drugs Smuggling’) then they will have to serve the whole amount. This is equivalent to a sentence of 13 years in prison in England.
If they pleaded to ‘Minor Drug Smuggling’ as part of some sort of plea agreement, then they would be eligible for Parole after 1/3 of that – just over two years (although this appears to have been abolished).
What would they have got in England?
The starting point is the Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Offences. On the basis that this was done for financial gain (which seems to be the case on the plea that was entered) as well as a result of some coercion, they would be classified as having a ‘Significant Role’.
The amount of drugs involved – 11kg – puts it well into Category 1. The starting point (after a trial) would be 10 years in prison, with a range of 9-12 years. The quantity of drugs would probably be balanced out by their youth and lack of previous offending to give a sentence of about 10 years.
They would get ‘credit’ for having pleaded guilty. In this day and age, that would probably knock 25% off the sentence (as they did not enter the pleas straight away and they were ‘bang to rights’). This would give a sentence of about 7½ years imprisonment, so about half (after the release provisions are taken into account) of the sentence that they will receive in Peru.
On the face of it the two women will have to serve about double the time in prison than they would had they committed the offence in the UK. Given that the UK is, in general, far more punitive than most countries, this is surprising on the face of it. However, due to various reasons, many South American countries have sentencing laws even more severe than the UK’s.