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How Do You Handle Federal Drug Charges?

Updated: Apr 21

How Federal Drug Charges Are Defended Against

Your safety, future, and financial stability are all on the line if you're charged with a drug-related crime like drug trafficking, manufacturing, or smuggling. Contact a California Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible.


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Federal agencies such as the DEA and FBI are under a great deal of pressure to conduct thorough investigations into drug-related crimes, and federal prosecutors are under a great deal of pressure to prosecute federal drug offenders. Federal drug crimes have been among the most difficult prosecutions to defend since the United States began the "war on drugs." As a result, defendants in federal drug cases should hire a qualified Criminal Defense Lawyer as soon as possible after being arrested by federal agents or finding that they are a suspect or victim of a federal drug crime investigation.

Drug Charges

Drug-related offenses are punishable by both state and federal law, and reports of manufacturing, importing, or selling illicit drugs or controlled substances will result in federal criminal charges. Here are a few examples of drug offenses that can lead to federal charges:

  • Drug trafficking

  • Drug smuggling

  • Drug manufacturing

  • Drug distribution

  • Drug Importation or drug exportation

Even if you don't actually commit a drug-related crime but are accused of plotting with one or more other individuals to do so, you might face federal criminal charges for drug conspiracy. If you are convicted of a drug crime that is connected to a criminal group or corporation, you could face federal racketeering charges under the RICO Act.

Controlled Substances


Controlled substances are drugs or chemicals whose manufacture, use, and possession are all controlled by the federal government. This includes all illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine and prescription medications like Adderall and Xanax. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) divides all federally regulated controlled substances into five schedules based on their widely accepted medical use, the potential for abuse, and addiction risk.

Federal Drug Crimes Penalties

Federal law imposes harsh sentences for crimes involving illegal drugs and controlled substances, and if you are convicted of such a felony in federal court, you may face substantial fines, a lengthy jail term, or both.


When sentencing people convicted of federal drug offenses, judges must take into account the federal sentencing guidelines, which outline a "very precise calibration of penalties" based on many factors, including the defendant's "subjective guilt" and the damage caused by the crime. Furthermore, many federal drug crime convictions include a mandatory minimum penalty ranging from a year to life in jail, and since the parole system for federal offenders has been abolished, people convicted of federal drug crimes usually serve lengthy prison terms.


The nature and quantity of drugs involved, the defendant's criminal record, and any aggravating circumstances that raise the seriousness of the offense all influence the applicable criminal sentences for drug-related offenses charged at the federal level. The following are some examples of drug-related offenses and the criminal punishments associated with them. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.


Drug Smuggling


The federal government has enacted exceptionally strict sentences for drug-related convictions such as drug smuggling, drug trafficking, and drug importation and exportation in its never-ending battle against the current "war on drugs." Depending on the nature of the offense and the extent and quantity of the drug or drugs involved, each of these offenses is prosecuted by the federal government and carries a maximum penalty of years in prison or life in prison.

Drug smuggling is one of the drug-related offenses that are subject to federal sentencing guidelines, which ensures that a conviction could result in a mandatory prison sentence. If you are facing drug smuggling charges in federal court, hiring a professional California Criminal Defense Attorney who is licensed to practice in federal court is your best bet for beating the charges and clearing your name.


Our California Criminal Defense Attorneys understand how damaging a drug smuggling conviction can be for you and your family, and they are dedicated to prosecuting your case to the fullest extent possible.

What is the concept of drug smuggling?


The act of exporting an illicit drug or controlled substance from one country to another in violation of federal law is known as drug smuggling. A drug-smuggling charge can include almost any illicit drug or controlled substance, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, and the more serious the drug and the larger the amount smuggled, the harsher the penalties.

What Constitutes a Federal Offense in Drug Smuggling?


Illegal drug crimes are illegal on both the state and federal levels, so the illegal selling, possession, distribution, or trafficking of drugs can be tried in either state or federal court.


However, a drug crime may be elevated to a federal offense whether it was investigated by a federal agency, whether it involves an opioid drug or prescription medication (due to the federal government's extensive regulation of opioids and prescription drugs), if the allegations are serious, or whether the drugs in question cross state lines, which is illegal. 21 USC 960, which establishes the criminal penalties for three distinct types of federal drug import/export offenses:

  • Trying to import or export a controlled product in violation of 21 USC 825 (labeling and packaging), 952 (controlled substance importation), 953 (controlled substance exportation), or 967 (controlled substance smuggling);

  • Possession of a controlled substance on board a vessel or aircraft in violation of 21 USC 955 (possession on board boats, aircraft, and other vehicles arriving in or departing from the United States);

  • Possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell in violation of 21 USC 959 (possession, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances).

Charges of Drug Smuggling Have Serious Consequences


If you are convicted of drug smuggling in federal court, you could face a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and up to $5 million in fines, but there are certain conditions that may greatly raise the criminal penalties. For example, under 21 USC 960, if a smuggled drug causes death or serious bodily harm, the penalty is increased to 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million. If the defendant has previously been convicted of a serious drug or violent crime, the sentence is increased to 15 years to life in prison and penalties of up to $20 million.


Furthermore, federal sentencing guidelines apply to drug smuggling, which sets a minimum and maximum sentence for the most serious federal criminal offenses. According to federal sentencing guidelines, the minimum penalty for a drug-smuggling conviction is five years without a prior conviction and ten years with a prior conviction, and the law states that "no individual convicted under [21 USC 960] shall be eligible for parole during the period of imprisonment imposed therein." That means that if you are convicted of drug smuggling, you may face a sentence of five to ten years in jail without the possibility of parole.

Smuggling drugs into the US may also be charged under 18 USC 545 (smuggling goods into the US), which specifies that anyone who fraudulently or knowingly imports or brings into the United States any commodity subject to law, or receives, covers up, buys, trades, or in any manner promotes the shipment, concealment, or distribution of such merchandise after importation is subject to 20 years in prison.

Drug smuggling is often charged in combination with other criminal offenses and illegal actions, such as money laundering, organized crime, racketeering, violent crimes, and terrorism, and any additional charges tacked onto a drug-smuggling charge will result in increased penalties upon arrest.

Defenses Against Drug Smuggling


Drug smuggling is a very serious crime, and although facing drug smuggling charges in federal court can seem hopeless, no criminal case is absolutely hopeless. If you move quickly to hire a California Criminal Law Attorney who recognizes the nuances of federal drug law and can educate you on the best defense strategy for your particular case, there is always a defense to federal drug smuggling charges. Such potential defenses against federal drug smuggling charges include:

  • You became an unwitting accomplice in the drug trafficking case.

  • Entrapment was used against you.

  • You were under the impression that the material in question could be lawfully imported into the country.

  • You were wrongly convicted of drug trafficking.

  • You've been duped into thinking you're someone else.

  • During an unauthorized search of your house, the prosecution collected evidence against you.

  • The prosecutor lacks sufficient proof to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • You were forced to commit the drug smuggling crime.

Serious drug-related crimes, such as drug smuggling, are investigated by the DEA, FBI, and other influential federal agencies and prosecuted in federal court by the US Attorney's office, which has the backing of the federal government, making drug smuggling charges particularly difficult to defend.

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Regardless of how serious the charges against you seem to be, you are constitutionally presumed innocent unless proved guilty, and the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When it comes to drug smuggling charges, the prosecution must prove each aspect of the crime to the point that there is no other rational explanation for the facts provided at trial but that you committed the crime. You may be able to get an acquittal at trial if your defense counsel can provide a different version of events that contradicts the prosecution's testimony and creates reasonable doubt about your guilt.

Drug Conspiracy


One of the most common drug-related crimes in the United States is drug conspiracy. Since it is easier for federal prosecutors to prove that a defendant conspired to commit a drug crime than it is to prove that the defendant actually committed the crime, this form of criminal charge is usual in federal drug cases. In fact, the prosecutor does not even need to prove a crime to prove a drug conspiracy case, nor does it need any hard proof of the defendant's guilt, such as drugs in his or her possession.


That means you may be charged with conspiracy to sell narcotics even though you never delivered or distributed any of the drugs in question; the prosecution will make its case if it can demonstrate you conspired with someone else to commit the crime. If you're facing federal drug conspiracy charges in California or elsewhere in the US, you'll need the support of an experienced California Defense Attorney.

What is the concept of a drug conspiracy?


A drug conspiracy in criminal law is an arrangement between two or more parties to commit a drug-related felony, and drug conspiracy charges may be brought in federal court if the drug conspiracy violates federal drug laws. A conspiracy may be a clear understanding between two or more individuals for the purposes of drug conspiracy charges; it does not have to be a formal arrangement. Drug conspiracy laws in the United States include a wide range of drug-related crimes, including conspiring to:

  • Possessing a controlled drug

  • Possess a controlled drug with the intention of selling it

  • Produce a restricted substance

  • A controlled medication must be distributed or dispensed.

  • Bring a controlled drug into the nation.

Drug Conspiracy Charges: Criminal Penalties


Anyone who tries or conspires to commit any of the above-mentioned drug-related crimes is subject to the same penalty as the underlying drug crime, according to 21 US Code 846. (i.e., the penalties for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance are the same as the penalties for distributing a controlled substance). That means that even though you didn't succeed in selling a controlled substance, the fact that you tried or conspired to do so makes you liable to the same criminal charges as if you had succeeded in doing so.


The federal sentencing guidelines, which prescribe a statutory minimum and maximum sentencing range for specific drug-related offenses, regulate the criminal penalties for drug-related federal crimes. In other terms, rather than leaving punishment up to the judge hearing the case, the court is normally expected to sentence a defendant in a federal drug case to a period of incarceration that falls within the federal sentencing guidelines' statutory range.


The length of time spent in jail for a drug-related felony is determined by the type and quantity of drugs used in the offense. For example, if you are convicted of conspiring to sell 100 grams or more of heroin, you might face a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years in prison. If you are charged with a federal drug offense, such as drug conspiracy, your personal property can be seized.


The government can seize any money or property that was "obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of" a drug-related crime, such as drug conspiracy, or any property that was "used, or planned to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to encourage the commission" of the drug crime under 21 USC 853.

Aggravating Factors in Sentencing in Drug-Conspiracy Cases


The minimum mandatory sentence for federal drug conspiracy charges can be increased if such aggravating factors are present. Sentence enhancements are the terms for these aggravating causes, and the two most common enhancements are as follows:

  • As a consequence of the drug plot, a person experiences serious bodily injury or death.

  • The defendant has been convicted of one or more drug-related felonies in the past.