If an individual is caught with a small amount of drugs, and there is no other associated criminal activity found, that person may just be charged with drug possession under state or federal law. However, when found with a quantity of drugs greater than for personal use, or if there are any indicators of manufacturing or distribution of drugs, federal prosecutors may want to try the individual on federal drug trafficking charges. Federal drug trafficking convictions can result in serious jail time.
Federal Drug Trafficking Charges
The difference between simple possession and possession with the intent to distribute, and drug trafficking can be based on the amount of drugs the defendant has in their possession at the time. Small amounts of a controlled substance may be considered to be for personal use, and result in a possession charge. However, larger amounts may result in drug trafficking charges, which are much more serious and carry heavy mandatory minimum sentences.
Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties
Under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), the government divides drugs into five schedules based on their perceived abuse potential, medical utility, and safety concerns, with Schedule I drugs having the highest potential for abuse. The specific schedule and type of drug can also affects how much of the substance will result in trafficking charges and resulting penalties.
The manufacture, distribution, or possession with the intent to distribute drugs can trigger a 10 year minimum sentence for:
- 1 kg or more of heroin;
- 5 kg or more of cocaine;
- 280 g or more of crack;
- 100 g or more of pure PCP;
- 10 g or more of LSD;
- 1000 kg or more of marijuana; or
- 50 g or more of pure methamphetamines (500 g of meth mixture).
A second offense can mean 20 years in prison, and a third offense can result in a life sentence. If, as a result of drug trafficking someone dies or suffers serious bodily injury, the penalties can double to a minimum of 20 years, with a life sentence for a subsequent offense.
There is even a mandatory minimum sentence for smaller amounts, with 5 years in a federal prison for:
- 100 g or more of heroin;
- 500 g or more of cocaine;
- 28 g or more of crack;
- 10 g or more of pure PCP;
- 1 g or more of LSD;
- 100 kg or more of marijuana; or
- 5 g or more of pure methamphetamines (50 g of meth mixture).
Conspiracy to traffick in drugs, or attempted trafficking carries the same penalties as the underlying drug trafficking charge. That means that even if no drugs were ever manufactured, purchased, possessed or sold, an individual attempting to traffick in a large quantity of drugs can end up with a 20 year minimum sentence.
Penalties can be enhanced if the defendant was trafficking drugs near a school or federal facility, using someone under the age of 18 in their drug operations, or carries a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.
In addition to jail time and fines, a federal drug crime conviction can result in forfeiture of real and personal property involved, such as a car or boat. Federal drug convictions can also mean losing the right to buy a gun, loss of a professional license, and even denial for receiving college scholarships and grants.
Defenses to Drug Trafficking Charges
Sometimes the police think they are above the law, and can search whoever they want whenever they want. However, the police are required to act within the constitutional limits of their profession, and have limits when when it comes to search and seizure of a controlled substance. If the police violate your rights, then evidence of the search and seizure may become inadmissible in court.
If you are charged with drug trafficking, or possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to traffic, don't think you have to plead guilty in order to get a deal. Facing the possibility of spending 20 years or more in prison, you should take your legal defense seriously. Consulting a skilled criminal defense attorney focused in defending clients for federal drug charges can help you get your charges reduced or dismissed.