A history of methamphetamine manufacturing
Meth was developed in a lab in 1893 by a Japanese scientist named Nagayoshi Nagai. The drug was first used by Japan, Germany, England, and the U.S. to help soldiers combat fatigue during World War II. Japanese factory workers also used the drug to allow them to work long hours. After the war, the demand for the large supply of meth in Japan decreased; therefore, the pharmaceutical industry developed a meth pill and made it available to the public. Thus began the first meth epidemic, which spread from Japan to Guam, the U.S. Marshall Islands, and on to the U.S. West Coast from the mid 1940s into the ’50s. Meth epidemics have been recurring ever since. In 1970, the federal government classified meth as a Schedule II drug, which has a high potential for abuse but may be prescribed for legitimate medical use. In 1996, Congress passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, which regulated mail order and chemical companies that sold the chemical components that were intended to be used to make meth at home. Enactment of this law also meant anyone who was caught buying large amounts of the chemical ingredients used in meth production would be required to prove the ingredients were intended to be used for a legitimate non meth-related purpose; the companies that sell these chemicals to people who make meth could also be punished under the law.
Ingredients that point to illegal drug manufacturing
There are certain ingredients that attract the suspicion of law enforcement officers if observed in or around a home or inside a vehicle. The following ingredients are used to make methamphetamine, though some can be substituted:
- anhydrous amonia
- ephedrine / pseudoephedrine
- hydrocloric acid
- red phosphorus
- sodium hydroxide
- sulfuric acid
The process of making meth begins with extracting ephedrine or pseudoephedrine from cold medicine, which is now sold in very limited supply when purchasing medicines containing these ingredients over the counter. The ingredients can also be extracted from diet pills. Next, a chemical reaction is produced by combining the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine with lithium and anhydrous ammonia or with red phosphorus, iodine crystals, and water. The end result is meth. A solvent is then added to extract the meth from the waste. Adding acidic gas bubbles cause the meth to form into crystals. Every step of the process is extremely dangerous.
Signs of a meth lab
In-home meth labs have become so popular in Florida that home buyers are cautioned when purchasing bank-owned or vacant fixer-upper properties. There are signs the average layman can use to identify the presence of a meth lab. These signs also signify to law enforcement officers and emergency workers that a meth lab may be present:
- Blacked out windows on a home
- chemical cans or drums of Drano, lye, antifreeze, pool acid, or iodine crystals
- indicators of unusually heightened security, including signs that read “Beware of Dog,” “Private Property,” “Keep Out,” or surveillance cameras and listening devices observed on the property
- high fences around the property with no animals present
- excessive trash on and around the property
- frequent late night visitors
- property smells of solvent
- occupants behave suspiciously and/or are extremely paranoid
Federal drug manufacturing charges
The DEA and the FBI are the agencies that are primarily charged with investigating federal drug manufacturing charges while the U.S. Attorney’s office handles prosecuting these cases. Examples of the evidence these agencies often rely on in obtaining convictions include:
- Quantity of drug or drug mixture found
- Possession of large amounts of precursor chemicals
- Possession of equipment used to make drugs
- Evidence of distribution of drug or drug mixture, including scales, plastic bags, cash, sales records, multiple phones
A person does not have to be caught in the act of manufacturing a drug or observed in an actual drug lab to face federal charges. Simply being caught with components that suggest drug manufacturing is enough to violate the law, give law enforcement cause to investigate further, and result in criminal charges. Furthermore, manufacturing or simulated manufacturing of a fake substance that is intended to look like an illegal drug is also a criminal offense. People who are charged with manufacturing may also be charged with other separate offenses such as possession, conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, and trafficking as there is overlap between the elements that comprise each offense. If charged and convicted of multiple offenses, the individual will also be sentenced for each offense separately. Therefore, prison time can add up to several decades behind bars, and the person may also be ordered to pay hundreds of thousands in fines. Penalties for a federal drug manufacturing charge can range from a minimum of three years to life in federal prison.
Defending a drug manufacturing charge
Illegal drug manufacturing defense attorneys have multiple approaches to defending their clients against federal charges. Most lawyers will first look at any searches law enforcement conducted to obtain evidence of the crime of which the individual is accused. Unlike a drug possession charge, drug manufacturing requires an element of intent. Therefore, in some cases, the person may have been in possession of the equipment to make an illegal drug, but had no intention of actually doing so. The approach an attorney will take in defending his or her client will naturally depend on the unique circumstances of the client’s case.
Drug manufacturing and illegal searches
U.S. constitutional law protects us from illegal searches. For example, if a police officer is in a neighborhood investigating a burglary, he may decide to go to a neighbor’s house to ask if the home’s occupants have seen anything suspicious in the area. If the neighbor opens the door, and the officer is able to see cans of paint thinner, scales, and laboratory equipment littered in the front room of the house, the officer may have probable cause to execute a search in that moment. However, if the officer simply sees that the neighbor appears to be unusually thin and have poor hygiene, he or she cannot legally assume there are drugs or drug manufacturing equipment on the property and demand to search without obtaining a warrant. In cases in which a search is deemed by a judge to be unreasonable, the prosecution may not use evidence uncovered by the illegal search to prosecute the defendant at trial. Having evidence suppressed due to Fourth Amendment violations often equates to a substantial victory for the defense because, depending on how significant the suppressed evidence is to the federal government’s case, the defendant may ultimately be acquitted and avoid prison.
Lack of intent to manufacture drugs
In some instances, a person may have possession of prohibited chemicals for a legitimate purpose. For example, if person who is interested in hydroponics as a hobby is found to have a small bag of marijuana on the premises along with other non drug-related plants, grow lights, and other equipment, the person’s defense lawyer may offer evidence of the individual’s hobby of growing plants and the absence of marijuana seeds and plants as evidence that he or she lacks the intent to illegally cultivate marijuana and sell or distribute it. However, the person may face a separate possession charge for the small amount of marijuana that was found on the premises. A similar defense may be raised if a person who works as a commercial painter is accused of manufacturing meth after a large can of paint thinner is discovered in his or her car after being stopped while transporting a friend who is a meth user.
Contact a West Palm Beach federal drug charge defense lawyer
The federal government has increased its efforts to investigate drug manufacturing crimes. Therefore, chances of being caught are greater than ever. Nevertheless, anyone who is suspected of manufacturing drugs should immediately contact an illegal drug manufacturing defense lawyer and request the attorney’s presence at all interactions with law enforcement. An experienced federal drug charges attorney can help people who are facing federal drug charges avoid self-incrimination and construct the best possible case for defending the individual against very serious federal drug manufacturing charges. The attorney will work hard to challenge the federal government’s case even under the most difficult circumstances.