Federal Drug Conspiracy – 21 U.S.C. § 846
Many people, when they end up being charged with a federal crime, end up getting accused of conspiracy. Conspiracy is not necessarily a crime but a theory by which the government can prosecute certain people for crimes.
For example, let's say there's a drug organization that is moving drugs, and multiple people are involved. There are dealers, there are suppliers, and mules carrying the drugs. Let's say there are ten people involved in this drug organization. Not every person will do the same thing as it relates to drugs.
So, one person may manufacture the drugs, one person may supply the drugs, one person may move the drugs, and one person may sell the drugs. So, how do all those people get convicted of drug sales if they're not doing every aspect of the drug organization? This is where the conspiracy theory comes in.
Suppose two or more people get together to commit a crime, like, for example, moving drugs. In that case, those people can be charged with conspiracy, and every person charged under that conspiracy indictment in a federal case would be responsible for the drug sales, just like each person doing things in the drug conspiracy.
So, they're using this conspiracy theory to cast a broad net to capture many different people. So, if you or a loved one is caught up in a federal drug conspiracy, or any conspiracy, you will want to hire a federal criminal defense attorney to defend you.
Two or More People Agree to Commit a Crime
A conspiracy is an agreement by 2 or more people to commit a crime. Federal prosecutions involving drug distribution frequently include allegations of violating 21 U.S.C. § 846, the statute used by prosecutors for drug-related conspiracies.
The theory of a conspiracy prosecution is the underlying unlawful agreement between a group of people to commit a crime. Put simply, a conspiracy has three crucial elements of the crime that must be proven for a conviction:
- agreement to commit a crime;
- intent, and
- an act to execute the agreement.
If the “intent” in the conspiracy is to sell narcotics that are in violation of federal laws, then federal prosecutors will normally file charges against all the co-conspirators under 21 U.S.C. § 846. In this type of federal criminal case, you are held liable not only for your own illegal conduct, but also the illegal acts of other people in the conspiracy.
21 U.S.C. § 846 conspiracy is a separate charge from underlying offense and the penalties for a conviction will depend on the original drug crime.
The most common penalties for violating this federal statute is a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in federal prison. For more information, our federal criminal defense lawyers are reviewing the law below.
Description of a Federal Drug Conspiracy
As discussed above, under 21 U.S.C. § 846, at least two or more people have to agree commit a drug crime. Note this crucial information:
- members within a conspiracy don't have to know all the details; and
- they don't have to know the identity of other co-conspirators, but
- they must make an agreement to participate in illegal conduct.
This means that members in the conspiracy can be charged with a federal crime even when they are not the primary person committing the crime.
Further, in many 21 U.S.C. § 846 drug conspiracy cases, the crime was never actually completed. Rather, the co-conspirator who was the alleged drug buyer or seller was actually a cooperating witness or an undercover federal law enforcement agent.
Federal drug conspiracies under 21 U.S.C. § 846 have to be somehow related to interstate commerce. Further, the feds will only get involved when there is a:
- large quantity off drug sales, or
- the drug crimes are related to street gangs,
- firearms trafficking,
- prescription drugs,
- human trafficking,
- international terrorism.
Put simply, low-level drug crimes and conspiracies will be handled in state criminal courts and will not be considered worthy of a federal drug conspiracy prosecution.
What Evidence is Necessary to Link You into a Federal Drug Conspiracy?
I get a lot of calls because people get linked into big federal drug conspiracies with multiple defendants and they can't figure out why they're hooked into all of the defendants, because they didn't do all of the acts of the drug conspiracy.
They only played a small role in the drug conspiracy, and yet, they're facing a 10-year mandatory minimum and they're obviously concerned for their well-being and don't understand:
- why they're being treated the same as those who are making a lot of money; and
- who are the suppliers who are actually dealing the drugs and making the biggest profit related to the federal drug conspiracy.
That's one of the issues I find myself explaining all of the time to clients and I thought I would touch on here just to kind of give you a general overview. The bottom line, in order to be involved in a federal drug conspiracy:
- you've got to agree to play at least some part in the conspiracy, and
- you've got to have an idea, based on the circumstances, common sense, logic, what you're getting yourself into and what the conspiracy actually involves.
If the government can prove those two things, they're on their way to hooking you into the 21 U.S.C. § 846 federal drug conspiracy. The federal crime of Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) primarily targets large-scale drug traffickers participating in extensive drug conspiracies.
Minor Role in the Drug Conspiracy
Sometimes the prosecutors go too far with conspiracy charges. They're trying to capture a person who isn't part of the conspiracy and has such a minimal role that they shouldn't be part of it.
Other times they've got the person as part of the conspiracy, but that person shouldn't be taking the full brunt of the crime because they're not making big money in the case.
They're not moving massive amounts of drugs. They're not making much money like these suppliers and sellers of these drugs, so they shouldn't have to get 10, 15, or 20 years in federal prison that many of these big drug conspiracies cover.
So, for a conspiracy in a federal case, you need an agreement between two or more parties, and then you need some action going on. For example, if people agree to sell drugs and you've got one person making the drugs.
You've got another person selling the drugs. You've got another person who is a mule who is moving the drugs from point A to point B. So you now have the formation of a federal criminal drug conspiracy.
The feds will use wiretaps. They'll use surveillance. They'll use informants to capture all the people involved with the conspiracy and prosecute them. Many times, all those people face that 10-year mandatory minimum based on the number of drugs being moved throughout the conspiracy, and you need somebody like me to help.
Now sometimes, people only have limited information because they're given instructions to move some drugs from point A to point B. In other words, they are playing a minor role and only following instructions rather than making the drug deals
Even though that's part of a much bigger conspiracy involving thousands of dollars and maybe even thousands of pounds worth of drugs, in that scenario, they're probably only going to be responsible for the drugs that they agreed to move.
As far as them trying to claim they didn't know they were drugs, that will obviously be determined by the surrounding facts and circumstances, how much they were paid and what else they thought they were if they didn't think that they were drugs.
I do have a scenario, for example, where someone is moving large shipments of drugs from point A to point B and they know under the circumstances that it's probably going to end up at point C.
So, even though they don't move the drugs to point C, there's an argument that they should know based on the circumstances, that point C is the final destination for those drugs, and if it involves multiple kilos of drugs, for example, obviously, that would be a big problem because it would trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum.
Defending Federal Drug Conspiracy Cases
So, you start to get an idea that the bottom line is that we need to look at the facts and circumstances of your particular case in order to truly evaluate whether you're involved with the conspiracy and the extent of your involvement.
Obviously, the less drugs that are tied to you, the less cash that's tied for you, the better for you. So, these are taken on a case-by-case basis.
We have to look at all of the facts and details related to the alleged conspiracy — what you knew, when you knew it — and we have to step back and use common sense and see what the government is really going to be able to prove related to you and your tie into the conspiracy.
If you are facing federal drug conspiracy charges in California or anywhere throughout the United States, I would suggest you take the first step. Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.
I've been doing this for almost three decades. I've handled numerous conspiracy cases at the federal level with a great deal of success.
Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. Our firm offers a free case consultation at (213) 542-0994.