Navigating Federal Drug Charges: Legal Insights and Advice 

When the federal government is involved in the investigation and prosecution of a drug crime, you can rest assured that significant resources and manpower will be dedicated to the case and that the defendant faces harsh penalties if convicted. If you are under investigation for federal drug crimes or are facing federal drug charges, you need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney on your side as soon as possible to protect your rights and your future.

Federal drug charges - Las Vegas, NV

What Is the Difference Between State and Federal Drug Crimes?

In the United States, both the federal government and each state government may enact and enforce criminal laws. As such, a criminal offense may be prosecuted at the state level, the federal level, or both. In the case of federal drug charges, the federal government typically has jurisdiction because the “criminal conduct crosses state lines.”

What Are Federal Drug Charges?

Title 21 of the United States Code (USC), commonly referred to as the “Controlled Substance Act (CSA), governs most federal drug crimes, making it illegal to:

  • Manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance OR
  • Create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.

Under the CSA, controlled substances are categorized into five schedules based on medical use, potential for abuse, and the likelihood of abuse and/or dependence. Schedule I drugs are those with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse while Schedule V drugs are used for medical treatment and have the lowest potential for abuse/dependence.

What Are the Potential Penalties If I Am Convicted of a Federal Drug Crime?

If you are convicted of a federal drug crime, the penalties you face will depend on several factors, including the type and amount of drugs involved, whether you have a criminal history, and the presence of aggravating or mitigating factors.

By way of example, a conviction for distributing 100 grams of heroin, 5 grams of methamphetamine, or 500 grams of cocaine as a first-time offender carries five to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million. The potential penalties increase to 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million for a kilogram of heroin, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or five kilograms of cocaine. Your sentence may also be increased if there was a firearm involved, you sold drugs to a minor or near a school, or someone was injured during the commission of the crime.

Many controlled substance offenses carry a mandatory minimum sentence if convicted. The average sentence for drug trafficking in 2022 was 78 months in prison, and almost two out of three defendants were subject to mandatory minimum sentencing, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Do I Have a Defense to Federal Drug Charges?

While being targeted in a federal drug investigation or facing federal drug charges can be frightening, you may have a viable defense. Only an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can review the facts of your case and determine what defensive strategies might apply; however, some common defenses in a federal drug crime prosecution include:

  • Excluding illegally obtained evidence. Evidence obtained during a search of your vehicle, home, business, or person, may be excluded if that evidence was not obtained pursuant to a valid warrant and the prosecution is unable to prove that an exception to the warrant required applied.
  • Challenging the credibility or reliability of informants. While law enforcement officers may use informants during a drug investigation, an informant must be reliable and credible. A common defense strategy is to arrack the reliability and/or credibility of an informant.
  • Reasonable doubt. The prosecution must prove every element of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted. Sometimes, the prosecution’s case is weak enough that the best defense is simply to point out the prosecution’s failure to meet its burden.
  • Substantial assistance. If it appears that a conviction cannot be avoided, providing “substantial assistance” to the prosecution is one way to decrease your sentence.

What Should I Do If I Am Facing Federal Drug Charges?

If you have reason to believe you are the target of a federal drug investigation, or you have formally been charged with a federal drug crime, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney right away. Contact The Federal Defenders to discuss your legal rights and options by calling 800-712-0000 or contacting us online.