Federal drug crimes involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances carry harsh penalties. Depending on the type and amount of the substance, terms of imprisonment can range from decades to years.
What you should know about federal drug crime charges is that some violations have mandatory minimum prison sentences attached to them. And if the alleged offense involved aggravating circumstances, a court can impose enhanced penalties.
Because the federal government takes drug crimes extremely seriously, if you have been accused of a violation, you must seek skilled counsel for help fighting your charge.
Mandatory Minimums for Federal Drug Crimes
Mandatory minimum sentences are those a judge must impose when someone is convicted of a drug crime. Unfortunately, statutes allowing for mandatory minimums generally overlook a person’s unique circumstances and apply a blanket term of imprisonment regardless of the facts of the case.
A few drug trafficking crimes under 21 USC § 841 carry mandatory minimum sentences. The penalties the court must impose vary depending on the type and amount of drug involved, as well as whether anyone was harmed because of the use of the substance.
The mandatory minimums for federal drug crimes include:
- 5 years for trafficking
- 100 grams or more of a substance containing heroin
- 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine
- 28 grams or more of a substance with a cocaine base
- 10 grams or more of PCP
- 1 gram or more of a substance containing LSD
- 100 grams or more of a mixture containing PCP
- 100 grams or more of a substance containing marijuana or 100 or more marijuana plants
- 5 grams or more of methamphetamine
- 50 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine
- 10 years for trafficking
- 1 kilogram or more of a substance containing heroin
- 5 kilograms or more of a substance containing cocaine
- 280 grams or more of a substance with a cocaine base
- 100 grams or more of PCP
- 1 kilogram or more of a substance containing PCP
- 10 grams or more of a substance containing LSD
- 1000 kilograms or more of a substance containing marijuana or 1,000 or more marijuana plants
- 50 grams or more of methamphetamine
- 500 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine
- 20 years if the offense resulted in serious bodily injury or death to another person and the substance was
- Any of those listed above or
- A Schedule I or II drug
Overcoming Mandatory Minimum Penalties
In some cases, judges can deviate from the mandatory minimums enumerated in the statute and impose a lower term of imprisonment. This can happen if the defendant provides substantial assistance to the government during the investigation or prosecution of another person involved in the drug crime.
To decide whether a deviation is warranted, the judge will consider many factors, including, but not limited to:
- How substantial the defendant’s help was;
- Whether the defendant’s testimony was honest, complete, and reliable;
- How in-depth the defendant’s assistance was;
- Whether the defendant or their family suffered harm or was at risk of harm because of their assistance; and
- Whether the defendant’s assistance was relevant to the other case.
The request for overcoming the mandatory minimum can come from the prosecutor or defense counsel by filing a motion with the court.
Sentence Enhancements for Drug Offenses Involving Aggravating Circumstances
Convictions for certain federal drug crimes can result in enhanced sentences. That means the judge can impose a lengthier or additional term of imprisonment because specific factors made the offense more serious.
Sentence enhancements apply in the following situations:
- Distributing a controlled substance to a person under 21 years of age. If someone over 18 years of age does this, the maximum prison term they can face is doubled for a first offense. Upon a second violation, the maximum prison sentence is tripled.
- Distributing or manufacturing controlled substances in a drug-free zone. Drug-free zones include elementary schools, colleges and universities, playgrounds, private youth centers, public swimming pools, arcades, and housing facilities owned by a public housing authority. A first offense results in twice the maximum prison term for drug trafficking; a third offense, triple the maximum.
- Using a firearm to further a drug crime. Anyone who uses, possesses, or displays a gun in relation to a controlled substance offense can be subject to a term of imprisonment in addition to the sentence imposed for the underlying offense. The length of incarceration is tied to what the weapon was and how it was used to further the crime. The additional minimum terms of imprisonment include:
- 5 years for possessing a firearm
- 7 years for displaying all or part of a firearm
- 10 years for discharging a firearm
- 10 years for possessing a short-barreled rifle or shotgun or semiautomatic assault weapon
- 15 years for carrying or possessing armor-piercing ammunition
- 30 years for possessing a machine gun
- 25 years for a subsequent violation
Contact Our Firm for Defense
Fighting a drug crime charge takes considerable effort. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we know what’s at stake, which is why we put in the time to develop aggressive and thoughtful strategies for our clients.
To learn how we can help with your Los Angeles case, call us at (800) 462-7160 or submit an online contact form today.