By Maíra Rocha Machado, Mariana Celano de Souza Amaral, Matheus de Barros and Ana Clara Klink de Melo

Brazil has the third largest prison population worldwide—over 700,000 people. At least 28% of them are in prison for drug trafficking. Given that situation, this paper explores the conflicts among the law; the Supremo Tribunal Federal, or Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) and lower court precedents. Based on a qualitative and quantitative study of Tribunal de Justiça de São Paulo, or São Paulo State Supreme Court (TJSP) and Superior Tribunal de Justiça, or Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) decisions between 2017 and 2018, this paper focuses on the arguments put forward by those courts to prevent the imposition of non-custodial sanctions on people convicted of drug trafficking even though they may be first-time offenders with no criminal record. Our research shows the main arguments used are related to the amount, type and variety of seized drugs; the convict’s criminal history; the person’s employment status at the time of arrest and the insufficiency of non-custodial sentences in cases of drug trafficking. Our conclusion is that the reasoning behind convictions for drug trafficking favors imprisonment even in situations in which the law and the STF precedents would allow non-custodial sentences.