Will I Go to Prison If Charged with a Federal Drug Case?

Federal drug violations are often very difficult charges to face as prosecutors are well known for aggressively pursuing cases against drug offenders, and the federal criminal court process and sentencing is much different than facing drug crime charges in a state court.

Most federal drug laws are defined under Title 21 of the United States Code which has each drug designated in one of five schedules.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) uses different factors in order to determine which schedule a particular drug should be categorized. Further, Congress passed the First Step Act which significantly changes the sentencing for drug related crimes.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, prosecutors can use a variety of charges to prosecute someone with a federal drug crime, including:

For more information, our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Drug Conspiracy – 21 U.S.C. § 846

Federal prosecutions involving drug distribution frequently include allegations under 21 U.S.C. § 846, which is a common statute used for all form of drug related conspiracies.

The theory of a conspiracy charge is an underlying agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, including:

Federal Drug Conspiracy Defense Attorney – 21 U.S.C. § 846
  • an agreement to commit a crime,
  • intent, and
  • an act to execute the agreement.

A primary factor in drug conspiracy charges is the sentencing law where there are mandatory minimums and high offense levels in the federal sentencing guidelines, especially in drug cases that involve large quantities of narcotics.

Put simply, any defendant found guilty in a federal drug conspiracy case will normally face several years in a federal prison.

Drug Manufacturing – 21 U.S.C. § 841

The federal statute prohibiting drug manufacturing is defined under 21 U.S.C. § 841, which includes many aspects often found in the illegal drug crime market.

Put simply, it's a federal crime to knowingly or intentionally manufacture an unlawful controlled substance, and a conviction in federal court carries sever penalties.

A 21 U.S.C. § 841 drug manufacturing offense occurs when someone, or a group of people, produce, or attempt to produce, controlled substances, including the most common controlled substances such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

A conviction for violating 21 U.S.C. § 841, manufacturing a controlled substance will include a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison.

10-Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence

This is probably one of the biggest questions on people's minds when they're facing a federal drug case, either when they're with multiple defendants or by themselves. You're typically not going to see somebody involved with a federal drug case unless a mandatory minimum is triggered.

In other words, they have enough narcotics and they're selling the narcotics and there's mandatory minimums for each type of narcotic depending on the amount of narcotic you have. So, most of the time you're looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum.

A lot of times, you'll see a 5-year mandatory minimum.  The answer is, you're definitely facing federal prison time if you're charged with a drug crime.  It really depends on what type of drug you have and the amount of drug you have.

Avoiding Mandatory Prison Sentence in a Federal Drug Case

Then the question becomes, can you get around the mandatory minimum sentence? To answer that, in a federal drug case, whether you can get around that mandatory sentence, you need to get some information:

  • First, we need to know whether you have any criminal record. If you have no criminal record, then you can try to get what's called a safety valve, which allows you, if you're not a leader/organizer and you meet certain other criteria to mount an argument that you should go below the 10-year mandatory minimum, plus it will give you two levels off your sentence if you meet the safety valve qualifications.
  • Another way to get around the 10-year mandatory minimum in a drug case at the federal level is if you cooperate with the government. The government can give you what's called a 5K departure, which allows you to go below the 10-year mandatory minimum.

You still wouldn't know exactly what your sentence is going to be because, ultimately, in the federal system as it relates to criminal cases, the judge has the final say as to what the sentence is going to be.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The judge, of course, has to consult the advisor federal sentencing guidelines. They also will hear from the probation department after they do a thorough investigation of the defendant.

They will make a recommendation as to what they think the sentence should be, and of course, they'll listen to the prosecutor, they'll listen to the defense attorney.

They'll even listen to what the defendant has to say and then they will ultimately make the decision on what that sentence is going to be.

So, there are ways to get around a 10-year mandatory minimum in a federal drug case, but the ways are limited unfortunately.

Criminal Defense for Federal Drug Offenses

So, the first thing you want to do is get a great criminal defense attorney on your side.  Sit down with that attorney.  Lay out all of the information.

I always recommend telling the truth so the attorney really knows what they're up against and what they can do to help you, and then counsel with your attorney.

Criminal Defense for Federal Drug Offenses

Obviously, you're going to decide what your strategy is going to be:

  • are you going to fight the case all the way through a jury trial and try to get a not-guilty verdict; or
  • does the government have the evidence against you and it will be silly to fight the case because you're going to lose — spend a bunch of money and probably get a much harsher sentence.

To me, that's step number one — what direction are you going?  What direction are your traveling?  Get your map together.

Get your realistic goals and plan together and then you have to take the steps in order to achieve your goals.  I always lay out everything for my client.

I give them the options and they make the final decision.  Whatever decision is made; we execute the best plan to get the best result in the case.

So, if you've got a federal drug case and you need help, you've taken the first step.  Now take the next step — pick up the phone.  Make the call now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you. Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. Our firm offers a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0994.

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Hedding Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about Federal Criminal Defense issues in Los Angeles and Encino California. We'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.