This issue comes up all the time in federal criminal defense where people are charged in big drug conspiracy cases with multiple defendants and not all of the defendants are doing the same thing as it relates to this alleged conspiracy.
Theory of Criminal Responsibility
Basically, what it is is, it's a theory of criminal responsibility. When people get together and they conspire, they agree, to commit some crime.
For example, transporting drugs, selling drugs and making big money related to drug activity. That group of people who agree and participate in the agreement or the conspiracy, are all going to be held responsible for that conspiracy.
That's difficult for people to understand. If three people get together and:
- they decide to move drugs and make money, and
- each of them is playing a different role in that conspiracy,
- then if the prosecutors can prove that there as an agreement between the parties, and
- they all were moving towards one particular goal,
- each person in that conspiracy is going to be held responsible for whatever that conspiracy nets.
So, if it nets a million dollars and you only get a thousand of the million, you're responsible for the million because you were part of the conspiracy.
Minor Role in a Drug Conspiracy
That's where it really starts to get complicated because some people are just little minor role players in the conspiracy. Let's say it's a drug case and someone's getting paid $500 to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the United States.
The drugs are worth a million dollars, and the people who are going to get those drugs stand to make thousands of dollars off the drugs, and the person moving the drugs in gets caught.
The question becomes, well, are they just in for the $500 or thousand dollars they're getting paid or are they responsible for the million dollars' worth of drugs? The answer is they're responsible for the million dollars' worth of drugs.
That's where things start to get confusing and unfair in federal cases, Because you've got someone who's been arrested and is being charged in the indictment with someone:
- who is just a simple mule or mover of narcotics,
- versus the person who is at the top of the indictment who was actually selling the narcotics, the supplier of the narcotics.
In other words, someone who was in a position to benefit significantly versus someone who was taking a huge risk and getting a small benefit.
Arguments to Minimize Defendant's Involvement
The bottom line is both of those individuals are going to be responsible for the conspiracy. They're going to be responsible for the drugs.
Fortunately, though, for those people who get caught up in that type of a situation, there are some good arguments to try to minimize your involvement and minimize the sentence and punishment that you're going to get in a federal conspiracy drug case.
For example, you could certainly argue that someone's a minor player, and therefore, that minor player should have their sentence reduced because of their limited role in the conspiracy.
You also have a better chance to get what's called a safety valve where you can get a couple of levels off your sentence, and also, you can be eligible to avoid a 10-year mandatory minimum.
Part of one of the key safety valve requirements is that you can't be a leader or organizer. So, if you're at the top of the food chain in a federal drug conspiracy, you're not going to be able to get that safety value.
Whereas, someone who is just a mule who is moving the drugs for a very small amount of money, is going to have a much better chance to get the safety valve.
Cooperation with the Government
Also, when it comes to cooperation with the government, obviously the smaller players are going to be in a better position to get a very low sentence if they can:
- cooperate successfully with the government,
- don't have a criminal record, and
- were really benefiting to a very small degree in comparison to other defendants.
The other defendants who are going to get long prison sentences because of their involvement and how much they were benefiting from the federal drug conspiracy.
Criminal Attorney for Federal Crimes
So, hopefully, this gives you an idea of the broad net that the government can cast when it comes to federal drug conspiracy cases. There are situations where there's an argument that you're not part of the conspiracy.
Obviously, those are things you're going to need to talk to your attorney above because your attorney is going to get all the information on your side.
Then compare that information to all the information on the government's side to make the determination whether you really can mount a strong argument that you're not part of whatever drug conspiracy you're being tied into.
I've been doing this now for 27 years. I've worked for the prosecution. I've worked for a Superior Court Judge and I've also been a guiding force as a federal criminal defense attorney since the early 1990s.
I represent many clients on federal drug conspiracy cases, so you've definitely come to the right place. Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We serve clients in California and throughout the United States
Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0994.