Federal Drug Crimes

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Federal Charges for Possession and Distribution of Drugs:

United States federal laws prohibit distribution of controlled substances. Generally, federal laws are intended to control, regulate, or stop trafficking narcotics, drugs, and prescription medications. Consequences of a conviction for transportation and distribution of drugs prosecuted in Federal courts are far more severe than a state court case. Federal drug charges carry severe punishments and generally longer sentences. State drug charge convictions for simple possession could be charged as misdemeanors and the accused may end up with mere probation or a limited term in a local or county jail, and a possible fine. However, federal courts in a possession without intent to distribute the drug my sentence the defendant to several years in prison depending on the quantity of the drugs, criminal history of the accused and various other factors.

The main federal narcotics law is 21 U.S.C. section 841(b)(1) which sets forth maximum and minimum penalties for possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. USC 841b1 has three subsections which list the penalties for various violations under 21 USC 841.

What is meant by Distribution of Drugs or Narcotics:

In federal courts, distribution refers to selling, transporting, delivering, furnishing, or providing controlled substances illegally. Sometimes, officers in an undercover capacity may set up a sting operation to catch a drug dealer. Confidential informants may be used to track phone calls, emails, text messages, letters, notes, travel plans. Wire taps may be used also. If the suspicion is of the sale of a large quantity of drugs or if it is believed that the suspects are acting in a group and are conspiring to import drugs from a foreign country into the United States the sting operations and the tracking of the suspects might take months or even years before charges are filed.

Federal Drug Conspiracy Charges (possession with intent to sell):

It is not uncommon for federal prosecutors to allege conspiracy along with allegations of drug manufacturing, sales, or trafficking. The drugs in question do not have to cross a state line or the border for charges to be filed. It is enough that the preparations were made and the suspects intended to complete the sale.

A conspiracy charge actually requires a person to enter an agreement with at least one other person and for at least one person to the agreement to perform an act to further the agreement. The conspiracy is complete once one person acts upon completing the agreement. In some states, the required act taken in furtherance of the agreement doesn’t have to be a substantial step towards the completion of the actual offense. For instance, if a person agrees to help protect a drug dealer by providing cover, then goes and buys a gun, rents a car and draws a map for the location of the transaction, then the conspiracy is completed.

U.S. Federal Mandatory Minimum and Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Offenses:

Federal laws provide severe penalties for possession and distribution of drugs. Federal guidelines list mandatory minimum sentences for possession with intent to sell or distribute certain quantities of drugs. Drug conspiracy charges or attempt to possess or sell drugs will also have mandatory sentences.

Mandatory or recommended sentences for possession of narcotics under federal laws are usually governed by section 2D1 of the United States “Sentencing Guidelines Manual”. Federal courts are not flexible or lenient as state courts in negotiating with or offering the drug offender multiple sentencing options. Offers are usually not attractive at all. In fact, federal courts often follow the sentencing guidelines in order to calculate or determine a proper sentence, although prosecutors and federal magistrates are given some discretion in fashioning a proper sentence for a drug offense.

For instance, for non-violent possession of narcotics, sentences double if the accused has prior felony drug convictions. For some drug offenses, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of a number of years and a mandatory life sentence if the accused has two or more prior felony drug convictions.

Deviation from Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Federal Drug Offenses:

In federal courts, sometimes prosecutors plea bargain a case. There may be ways to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. For instance, if the defendant provides substantial assistance to the government by turning in other individual who may be involved in drug trafficking or providing information that may lead to the arrest of such individuals. In addition, some defendants may qualify for what is called the safety valve, which is a law that Congress passed in 1994 to address the excessive sentences served by non-violent federal drug offenders. Under the safety valve exception, if the federal judge believes the defendant is a first-time offender and is considered a low-level and non-violent, the defendant may be sentenced under the sentencing guidelines instead of the mandatory minimum federal sentencing laws.

Base Offense Levels Applied to Federal Drug Charges:

Federal courts assign what is referred to a base offense level to any federal charge for the purpose of sentencing the defendant or making an offer to plea bargain. For drugs, narcotics and controlled substances, the offense level may be as low as 6 and as high as 43. For instance if the offense involves less than 50 grams of hashish, they may apply an offense level of 6, but if the defendant is convicted under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), (b)(1)(B), or (b)(1)(C), or 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(1), (b)(2), or (b)(3), and the offense of conviction establishes that death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of the substance depending on whether the defendant committed the offense after one or more prior convictions for a similar offense, he may be assigned a base offense level of 38 to 43.

Adjustments to Offense Levels in Federal Drug Charges:

The defendant may receive an adjustment under Mitigating Role or Specific Offense Characteristics:

1. If a dangerous weapon was possessed, increase by 2 levels.

2. If the defendant unlawfully imported or exported a controlled substance under circumstances in which (A) an aircraft other than a regularly scheduled commercial air carrier was used to import or export the controlled substance, or (B) the defendant acted as a pilot, copilot, captain, navigator, flight officer, or any other operation officer aboard any craft or vessel carrying a controlled substance, increase by 2 levels. If the resulting offense level is less than level 26, increase to level 26.

3. If the object of the offense was the distribution of a controlled substance in a prison, correctional facility, or detention facility, increase by 2 levels.

4. If (A) the offense involved the importation of amphetamine or methamphetamine or the manufacture of amphetamine or methamphetamine from listed chemicals that the defendant knew were imported unlawfully, and (B) the defendant is not subject to an adjustment under §3B1.2 (Mitigating Role), increase by 2 levels.

5. If the defendant, or a person for whose conduct the defendant is accountable under §1B1.3 (Relevant Conduct), distributed a controlled substance through mass-marketing by means of an interactive computer service, increase by 2 levels.

6. If the offense involved the distribution of an anabolic steroid and a masking agent, increase by 2 levels.

7. If the defendant distributed an anabolic steroid to an athlete, increase by 2 levels.

Numerous factors are considered by the arresting officers and the district attorneys to decide whether a close case should be charged as a simple possession of drugs or possession for sales. For instance, if the drugs found were packaged individually in numerous baggies of equal weight, or if a scale and/or a pay/owe sheet was discovered where the drugs were found, or if a large amount of cash is recovered from the location of the arrest or from the person of the arrestee, chances are a charge of possession for sales may be filed.
An experienced drug possession Los Angeles Defense Lawyer could help you by convincing the District Attorney that the case should be a simple possession and not a possession for sale.

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