In some cases, an accused person may face both state and local charges that arise from the same incident. Federal judges obtain their position when they are appointed by the president of the United States, typically after having very esteemed legal careers as lawyers and judges in lower-ranking courts. Cases that appear before federal judges are prosecuted by federal government agencies. Therefore, people who are accused of committing a federal drug offense must face legal and law enforcement professionals who have many years and often decades of experience in the criminal court system. Consequently, defendants who are charged with a federal drug offense must choose an attorney who can rise to the occasion with extensive experience and a successful track record of prevailing against the highly-trained investigators and prosecutors who work relentlessly to obtain convictions in federal drug charge cases.
- DRUG TRAFFICKING: Trafficking and distribution of an illegal drug are two drug-related offenses that are penalized under federal law. In proving a defendant should be convicted of distribution, prosecutors must establish the defendant’s possession of an illegal drug with the intent to sell, deliver, or otherwise provide the drug illegally. However, a prosecutor may obtain a conviction for trafficking by proving the defendant possessed the drug in a relatively large quantity. A trafficking charge is based on the intent to distribute and does not require movement, whereas a distribution charge typically requires an attempt to move the drugs.
- DRUG MANUFACTURING: A person may be convicted of drug manufacturing if he or she is knowingly involved in any step in the process of producing an illegal drug or the chemicals necessary to manufacture an illegal drug. While most people imagine that manufacturing charges stem from working in an illegal drug lab, the recent rise in methamphetamine production and synthetic drug use has prompted law enforcement agencies to increasingly focus on bringing charge against individuals who sell components that are necessary to produce illegal drugs. Furthermore, a person may be charged with drug manufacturing even if he or she simply offers to assist in the process of manufacturing an illegal drug.
- PRESCRIPTION DRUG FRAUD: Over the past decade, federal and state law enforcement agencies have grown more concerned over prescription drug fraud, particularly as more people have developed an addiction to opioid drugs. Prescription drug fraud can take on many different forms. Patients are limited in the amount of refills of certain prescription drugs they may receive from their doctor; therefore, people who have developed an addiction often engage in doctor shopping, which involves visiting different doctors and misrepresenting their current prescription drug use in the interest of having the new doctor write an additional prescription. People also attempt to obtain more than the allotted amount of a prescription drug by stealing a prescription pad and forging a doctor’s signature, using a computer to create fraudulent prescriptions, calling pharmacies and impersonating medical staff to request a prescription, and altering the drug quantity on an existing prescription.
Why are federal drug charges more severe?
Most people assume being convicted of a federal crime results in a longer prison sentence simply because the federal government has supremacy over the states. However, people who are convicted of drug charges in federal court have longer prison terms imposed on them because federal sentencing guidelines include mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums can range from five to 10 years, depending on factors including the type of drug and quantity involved in the case. The mandatory minimum sentence increases to 20 years imprisonment if the accused has had a prior conviction for an offense that carried a 10 year minimum or if the drug crime results in the injury or death of another person. If the defendant has a prior conviction for a crime that carries a 10 year sentence and someone is injured or killed in the course of committing the current offense, the mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment.
Penalties for federal drug trafficking and distribution charges
Federal sentencing for trafficking and distribution depends on several factors, including the drug involved, the quantity the person is accused of possessing, purity level of certain drugs, and whether the accused has prior convictions for the same or a comparable offense. Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines call for an individual to be sentenced to five years in federal prison if he or she is convicted of trafficking or distributing the following:
- cocaine – 500 to 4999 grams
- cocaine base – 5 to 49 grams
- heroin – 100 to 999 grams
- LSD – 1 to 9 grams
- methamphetamine (pure) – 5 to 49 grams
- methamphetamine (mixture) – 50 to 499 grams
- PCP (pure) – 110 to 99 grams
- PCP (mixture) – 100 to 999 grams
People who are convicted of trafficking or distributing the drugs listed above in the specified quantities may also be ordered to pay up to $2 million in fines; groups that are engaged in trafficking and distributing these drugs in the specified quantities may be ordered to pay up to $4 million in fines. If the defendant has a prior conviction for the same offense, the minimum mandatory sentence is automatically increased to 10 years in federal prison, and the maximum fine is increased to $4 million for the individual and up to $10 million if multiple individuals are involved in committing the offense. For cases that involve larger quantities, the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines are as follows:
- cocaine – 5 kg or more
- cocaine Base – 50 grams or more
- heroin – 1 kg or more
- LSD – 10 grams or more
- PCP – 100 grams or more
A person may also be ordered to pay up to $4 million in fines For Individuals who have had one previous charge for trafficking or distributing the drugs listed above in larger quantities, the mandatory minimum sentence increases to 20 years in federal prison with a potential maximum fine of $8 million, $20 million if the offense was committed by a group. If the individual has had two or more prior offenses, the mandatory minimum sentence is increased to life.
Illegal search and seizure defense
Many large drug busts are made when law enforcement officers conduct a search on a vehicle or at a home, warehouse, or other property. People who are accused of drug crimes are often unaware of the extent to which the law protects them from unreasonable searches. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement. Drugs are often found during a traffic stop. However, police do not automatically have the right to search a person’s vehicle simply because an officer has conducted a stop. Even if a person is stopped for a legitimate reason such as speeding or running a red light, the police officer must have probable cause to search the vehicle. Common examples of situations that often give officers probable cause include smelling the odor of drugs when the driver opens the window of the vehicle, seeing someone throw drugs or illegal contraband outside the vehicle prior to stopping, or smelling alcohol and suspecting the presence of an open container. Even if a traffic stop results in an arrest, the police must still have probably cause to search the vehicle unless the arrest itself was drug-related. Arresting a person for unpaid traffic tickets does not automatically grant police the authority to search the vehicle for drugs.
It is very important for individuals who are accused of a federal drug crime to note that these lengthy sentences can add up very quickly. Federal drug charges are sentenced per count; therefore, if a person has been charged for three separate counts of trafficking drugs on three separate occasions, he or she may potentially be sentenced for all three charges if convicted. Therefore, the judge would assign a separate prison term for each conviction, which would translate to spending 15 to 30 years in federal prison or even longer.
West Palm Beach drug arrests
People can be arrested for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, once a person is placed under arrest, the procedure is generally the same in every case. When a person is arrested in West Palm Beach for a federal drug charge, standard procedure dictates that the police inform the individual he or she is being placed under arrest prior to transporting the person to the police station. The police will generally also inform the individual of his or her right to remain silent in the interest of avoiding self-incrimination at that point. Attorneys generally advise their clients to remain silent and avoid talking about the arrest and surrounding circumstances until the opportunity to call an attorney arises and the attorney is present at the police station with the accused person. At the police station, the police inform the individual of the charges that are against him or her. The police may also make certain requests, including asking the person to appear in a photo lineup, have fingerprints taken, give a hair sample, or provide other information that is related to the case. It is very important to know that anyone who is placed under arrest has rights. These rights include:
- the right to know the crimes of which he or she is being accused
- the right to know the identity of the police officers encountered during the arrest and at the police station
- the right to communicate by telephone with family, attorneys, friends, or a bondsperson upon arriving at the police station, but after police have completed the booking procedure
- the right to have an attorney present at all stages
- the right to request a free attorney if unable to afford one
Federal drug offenses are very high-stakes crimes; therefore, people who face these types of charges should contact an attorney as soon as possible. It is not uncommon for law enforcement officials to overstep their legal boundaries in aggressively investigating a federal crime. Examples of overstep include subjecting an accused person to biased lineups, improperly informing suspects and arrestees of their right to avoid self-incrimination, and conducting illegal searches in pursuit of drug evidence. An experienced attorney will protect the accused person’s rights and challenge illegally obtained evidence and procedural violations to give his or her client a fair chance in court. The criminal court system is complicated beyond the average person’s legal knowledge and experience, and the system can sometimes be unjust. Therefore, having the right attorney who is well-equipped to fight battles on the accused party’s behalf is critical to obtaining a favorable outcome.