In 2018 alone, more than 1.65 million people were arrested in the United States for drug offenses. The vast majority of these arrests were at the state and local level. In 2016, federal law enforcement officers arrested just 23,566 people for drug-related crimes.
Although you are less likely to be charged with a federal drug crime than a state drug crime if the federal government does arrest you on a drug offense, the potential consequences are often much more serious. A conviction for a federal drug crime may result in a mandatory minimum sentence, and may even lead to related charges, such as money laundering or tax evasion.
If you have been charged with a federal offense related to drugs, it is vital that you consult with a skilled federal drug lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can develop an aggressive strategy to optimize the likelihood of a favorable outcome for your case.
Why Was I Charged with a Federal Drug Offense?
Most drug charges are brought by state and local prosecutors. However, there are certain situations where the federal government has jurisdiction over drug crimes. Specifically, you may be charged with a federal drug offense if:
- The alleged illegal activity crossed state lines;
- The activity happened on federal lands (such as a national park);
- Drugs were sold to a federal agent;
- Drugs were sold to someone under the age of 21 in a school zone; or
- A significant quantity of drugs were trafficked
In some situations, local law enforcement may coordinate in a sting operation. Law enforcement will then decide who should be charged in federal versus state court. Generally, the penalties for a drug charge are much more severe in federal court.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the agency that is most often involved in federal drug crimes. In some cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may also be involved in investigating a federal drug case. Typically, the DEA focuses its operations on large-scale drug-related crimes, such as smuggling drugs into the United States and across state lines.
Federal Drug Laws
Under federal law, you may be charged with a number of offenses related to drugs. Common federal drug charges include:
- Drug trafficking
- Possession of a controlled substance
- Drug manufacturing
- Drug kingpin (continuing criminal enterprise)
The exact charge that you face will be based on factors such as the type of drug involved, the quantity, your criminal history, and whether death or serious injury occurred related to the alleged offense. A drug crime that affects a vulnerable victim, such as a pregnant woman or a child, may also lead to more serious charges.
The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) regulates the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances in the United States. Under the CSA, drugs are categorized into five schedules based on their potential for abuse, accepted medical use, and status in international treaties:
- Schedule I Drugs: drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, marijuana, and ecstasy.
- Schedule II Drugs: substances with a high potential for abuse and dependence. Examples of Schedule II drugs include prescription opiates like Vicodin, cocaine, and methamphetamine (both prescription and street meth).
- Schedule III Drugs: drugs with a moderate to low potential for dependence. Examples of Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids, testosterone, ketamine, and drugs with a low amount of codeine, such as Tylenol with codeine.
- Schedule IV Drugs: substances with a low potential for abuse and dependence. Examples of Schedule IV drugs include Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Tramadol, Darvocet, and Ativan.
- Schedule V Drugs: drugs with a lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV drugs. Examples of Schedule V drugs include Lomotil, Lyrica, cough medicines with a low amount of codeine, such as Robitussin AC, and Parepectolin.
Importantly, even if a substance is not listed on this schedule, it may still be treated as a Schedule I drug for purposes of criminal prosecution. Specifically, a substance that is chemically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II drug could be charged in this way, because it is a controlled substance analogue. For example, the drug 1,4-B is considered a Schedule I drug – even though it is not listed in the CSA – because it is substantially similar to GHB and produces similar effects.
Why Do I Need a Federal Drug Lawyer?
Federal drug charges are often more serious than state charges, and can result in much harsher penalties. In addition to mandatory minimums for drug charges in the federal criminal justice system, a person with one or more prior convictions for drug crimes or crimes involving violence could face enhanced sentencing by a federal judge.
There are also fewer opportunities for leniency in the federal system. Parole has been eliminated for federal crimes, and alternative sentences such as probation or home confinement are incredibly rare. In addition, if you sign a plea agreement on a federal drug charge, then your right to appeal your conviction will be limited.
A federal drug charge may also lead to numerous related federal charges. Depending on the facts of your case, an arrest on federal drug crimes may lead to a range of other charges, such as money laundering, tax evasion, or even a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) charge. A skilled federal drug lawyer will develop a proactive strategy to minimize the likelihood of being charged with additional offenses.
There are a number of potential defenses to federal drug charges. This may include working to have evidence suppressed based on an illegal search or seizure, a challenge to the analysis performed by the federal drug lab, or even an argument that an individual was entrapped. Because there are a number of differences between federal and state drug charges, it is vital to retain an attorney who has significant experience handling federal drug charges.
If I Plead Guilty to a Federal Drug Crime, Do I Need a Lawyer?
Yes. A conviction for a federal drug offense can lead to years – or even decades – if imprisoned in federal prison. A skilled federal drug lawyer can help to negotiate the best possible plea deal using their experience and knowledge of the law.
In addition to prison time, there may be a number of collateral consequences to being convicted of a drug crime. For example, if you are an immigrant, being convicted of a drug-related offense can lead to deportation or inadmissibility. A drug conviction may also affect your ability to travel to other countries, impact your right to bear arms, bar you from seeking student loans, and make you ineligible for federal or state employment. Your attorney can explain the possible consequences for you based on your unique situation, and help you decide if you should take a plea deal or go to trial.
When Is a Drug Crime Considered a Conspiracy?
A conspiracy may be charged whenever two or more people make an agreement to commit a criminal act. In federal drug cases, a drug conspiracy is usually charged when the government has evidence that two or more people were working together to manufacture, traffic, or sell drugs. Importantly, the agreement to commit a crime does not have to be express, as long as the participants knew that they were planning to commit a crime together.
A federal drug conspiracy charge is usually brought in cases involving large-scale manufacturing, smuggling, or sales of controlled substances. Because the mandatory minimum sentence for a drug conspiracy charge can be quite steep, it is critical that you consult with a federal drug lawyer as soon as possible after learning that you are being investigated or after you have been charged.
How Can I Get a Federal Drug Charge Dismissed?
There are a number of ways to fight a federal drug charge, each of which will be based on the facts of your case. For federal drug charges, one of the most common ways to get a case thrown out is by seeking to have the evidence against you suppressed. This typically happens when law enforcement obtained the evidence illegally, such as by searching your house without a warrant.
Other possible strategies may include:
- Challenging the credibility of an informant
- Arguing that the substances in question were not illicit
- Showing that the evidence against you is not sufficient
Federal prosecutors generally do not bring criminal cases unless they have substantial evidence to back up the charges. That is why it is vital to hire an experienced federal drug lawyer who can use their knowledge of the law and the federal criminal justice system to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
How We Can Help
Being charged with a crime can be incredibly overwhelming – particularly if you have been charged by the federal government. A federal drug charge may seem impossible to beat. However, with the assistance of a zealous federal drug lawyer, you may be able to achieve a better outcome – such as a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you, a favorable plea deal, or even a not guilty verdict at trial.
Based in Lexington, Baldani Law Group represents clients throughout Kentucky who have been charged with a range of states and federal crimes. We work hard to help our clients get the best possible resolution to their case. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a member of our team, contact us today at 859-259-0727 or fill out our online contact form.