Federal Crimes Blog

How are Huge Federal Criminal Drug Cases Resolved Before Trial?

Posted by Hedding Law Firm | Feb 29, 2020

If you or a family member has been indicted in a big federal drug conspiracy case and you're wondering how, if there are more than ten individuals indicted, that case will resolve itself?  I can give you an idea, having been doing these cases for the past 26 years. Our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

I was on one of the original indictments in Los Angeles many years ago, so I know how these cases get resolved. Federal criminal prosecutions that involve drug distribution often include accusations under 21 U.S.C. § 846, which is the ordinary statute used for all types of drug-related criminal conspiracies.

Plea Agreement with Federal Prosecutor

On the one hand, the feds usually only indict people for drug crimes if they've got evidence, so they're going to have wiretap evidence.  They'll have videotaped surveillance.  They'll have people who have been busted who are cooperating with them.  So, most of these cases are going to be resolved by way of a plea agreement.

Federal Criminal Drug Cases

Let's say it's a 20-person indictment.  A tiny percentage of those typically end up going to trial.  Most of them will end up working out a deal with the government.  Some of them will cooperate and sit down with the government and give information about themselves, other people in the indictment, and maybe others who aren't.

Other people will take their medicine.  They'll realize the government has the goods against them and can prove the case.  Maybe they're on wiretap admitting that they're involved in a drug conspiracy, or perhaps they were caught with a bunch of kilos of narcotics — whatever the case may be.

There will be those handful of defendants, though, in my experience, the leaders, the organizers, and the higher-ups in the conspiracy who don't want to take a deal. Either because they're looking at so much time, they figure it's worth their while to fight the case.

Maybe they have a good defense because they've kept themselves separate from the other defendants.  That tiny handful of defendants will go to trial. Of course, all the marbles will be on the line for them because if they get convicted, they're usually looking at mandatory minimums of double-digit time in federal prison.

Plead Guilty and Cooperate with the Government

A lot of times, some of the other people who pled guilty will cooperate against them and come and testify against them.  Ultimately, a jury will decide whether they're innocent or guilty.

If they're found innocent, they'll be done.  If they're found guilty, the judge will sentence them according to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which is obviously what their attorney and the prosecutor argued for at the time of the sentencing.

Many times, in some of these significant indictments, people will cooperate, which will cause other indictments to be triggered because the feds will find other people who were involved in or related to the drug conspiracy. They will charge them either in that same indictment with the other defendants or create an entirely separate indictment.

Sometimes, people can give information about individuals involved in a drug conspiracy outside the district where the case is pending; in other states, for example, the federal investigators in those states will be given information.

They will investigate it and then indict more people in those states.  Of course, the people who gave the information will be given credit through what's called a downward departure, and their sentence will be mitigated accordingly, depending on how helpful they were to the government and how the government perceives their cooperation — whether or not it was of a substantial benefit to the government.

How To Avoid a Lengthy Prison Sentence in a Federal Case

Most people charged with federal crimes want to stay out of custody.  If they have to go into custody, they're trying to do the least amount of custody possible, and you certainly don't blame them.

Let's discuss ways to avoid a lengthy federal prison sentence.  The first way you might be able to prevent it is by getting what's called the “safety valve.”  

This usually is available in drug cases, and it has to do with people who do not have a lengthy criminal record, are not a leader or organizer of the crime that they're involved with – they're more of an average participant – and did not use a weapon during the offense.  

These are some of the factors that are going to be evaluated when assessing whether or not a safety valve might apply to you. The two things a safety valve could potentially do are:

  • One, shave two points off your sentence, which could be significant, and
  • Two, it can get you under a mandatory minimum – whether it be a 5, 10, or 15-mandatory minimum.

The safety valve may be available in your case.  You want to discuss it with your attorney in evaluating how to handle your case, and it is an effective way to avoid a lengthy federal criminal sentence.

Another way to avoid a federal criminal sentence is a “5K1 departure.”  This has to do with cooperating with the government through the assistance of your attorney.  Suppose you can successfully do that, and the government believes you have provided them with substantial assistance. In that case, you can get unlimited points shaved off your sentence and avoid a mandatory minimum if that applies in your particular case.

So, these are two very effective ways – safety valve and 5K departure – and of course, the final way to avoid a lengthy federal sentence is to go to trial, beat the government, or beat the government in a motion and get your entire case dismissed and then you will do no time at all.

Contact our Federal Criminal Lawyers for Help

So, many of these multiple-person indictments will get chopped down to a handful of defendants, if that, and then the case will go to trial with that small amount of defendants.  Very rarely will you see a whole host of defendants going to trial unless it's a nasty case filed by the federal government, which they rarely do because they don't file cases unless they think they can win.

So, if you or a loved one is charged with a big federal drug conspiracy case, even if RICO charges are involved, pick up the phone.  Make the call.  I'm happy to put my 26 years of experience to work for you.

Hedding Law Firm is a federal criminal defense law firm located at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also at 633 West Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0994.

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