We are sometimes asked if federal agents are allowed to stop somebody when they are conducting a criminal investigation? The answer to this question, in general, is no. The feds nor the state can stop anybody for no reason whatsoever. They're going to have to have what's called probable cause.
They're going to have to have some information that someone is doing something criminal. It will have to be valid information. Otherwise, the stop can be illegal, and the evidence seized from the stop, whether drugs or any fraudulent activity, for example, can be suppressed and not used against the person.
Of course, the courts have carved out many exceptions for scenarios where the federal government stops people. For example, if the police are walking around outside and coming up and making contact with somebody, that is not unlawful.
They're in a public place. They're allowed to talk to people. They're allowed to investigate crimes. That's what their job is. However, once they start showing authority, once they start using any force, and once a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, we begin to get into an area of an illegal stop. There are countless cases associated with these situations where police are stopping people;
- They're being frisked;
- They're being searched;
- Their property is being searched.
Whether that be a backpack, a car, or illegal information is being found out about that person. Whether that be drugs, stolen credit cards, whatever the case may be, and now that's being used against the person. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will discuss this topic further below.
Federal Drug Charges Explained
Federal drug crimes usually are challenging because prosecutors aggressively pursue charges against drug offenders, and the criminal court process and sentencing are far different than a state-level court. Federal drug laws are described under Title 21 of the United States Code, each drug designated in one of five schedules.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the primary agency responsible for investigating drug offenses, such as drug conspiracy, manufacturing, cultivation, importation, smuggling, and drug trafficking.
Federal prosecutions for drug distribution often involve allegations under 21 U.S.C. 846, which is a statute used for all forms of drug-related conspiracies. A conspiracy charge is an underlying agreement between two or more people to commit a crime that includes:
- an agreement to commit a crime,
- intent, and
- an act to execute the agreement.
A primary consideration in drug conspiracy charges is the federal sentencing law with mandatory minimums and high offense levels, especially in cases involving large quantities of narcotics.
Drug Manufacturing – 21 U.S.C. § 841
The federal statute making drug manufacturing a crime is 21 U.S.C. § 841. Simply put, it's a federal offense to knowingly or intentionally manufacture an illegal controlled substance.
A 21 U.S.C. 841 drug manufacturing crime occurs when someone produces or attempts to produce controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. A conviction for manufacturing a controlled substance will include a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison.
10-Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence
When someone has been charged with a federal drug crime, one of their primary concerns deals with the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence if they are convicted. Usually, a mandatory minimum sentence is on the table if the feds conducted an investigation and formally filed charges for a drug offense.
In other words, these cases usually involve enough mandatory narcotics minimums, depending on each narcotic and the exact amounts. So, most of the time, you're looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but at least a 5-year mandatory minimum.
Now, the question becomes can you get around the mandatory minimum sentence in a federal drug case? It's possible but will depend on many different factors.
Suppression of Illegally Obtained Evidence
Now, your attorney has the job of making sure that if they did find illegal information or drugs on you, to try to see if it is possible to suppress in saying that is an unlawful stop, and therefore, an unlawful search.
What I have you do is come to the office. We go over all of the facts of the case. I encourage you to be honest with me and tell me what happened so I can honestly evaluate whether you have the type of situation that is ripe for an argument that the federal government illegally stopped you.
I will look at the case file, I will look at the facts of the case from your perspective, and then the last piece of the puzzle I'm going to need to evaluate the case effectively is the police's version of events — even if that version of the circumstances regarding your stop is manufactured, manipulated or wrong.
I still need to see what it is so I can compare it against yours, compare it against the law, compare it against common sense, and, of course, compare it against any evidence that may be available, for example, video eyewitnesses who saw what was going on. Sometimes the police are stupid enough to put unfair inconsistencies in their report.
There's a whole host of things that can happen that can benefit you when it comes to an illegal stop in a federal criminal case. So, if you or a loved one is charged in a federal criminal case and you think you were illegally stopped, pick up the phone.
Set up a meeting with me, whether on the phone or face to face, and we can talk about it, and I can begin the process of defending you and helping you and getting you the best result in your federal criminal case. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County and serves people across Southern California. We offer a free case evaluation by phone, or you can fill out the contact form.