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How Do You Handle Federal Drug Charges?

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

How Federal Drug Charges Are Defended Against

Your safety, future, and financial stability are on the line if you're charged with drug-related crimes 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 great 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 victims of a federal drug crime investigation.

Drug Charges

Drug-related offenses are punishable by 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, potential 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 live 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 their criminal punishments. 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 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 a drug-related offense 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 a federal agency investigated it, 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 violates 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 certain conditions 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 a 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 proven 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 to sell 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. Your personal property can be seized if you are charged with a federal drug offense, such as drug conspiracy.


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:

  • A person experiences serious bodily injury or death due to the drug plot.

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

For example, if you are convicted of conspiring to sell 100 grams or more of heroin and the crime results in death or severe bodily harm, you could face a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. If you are accused of conspiring to sell 100 grams or more of heroin and have a previous conviction for a serious drug or violent crime, you could face a prison term of 10 years to life.

Defense against a Drug Conspiracy


To show that an accused is guilty of drug conspiracy charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor must prove the following "elements" of the crime:

  • There was an arrangement between two or more persons to commit a drug offense that was illegal under federal law.

  • The defendant was aware of the plot.

  • The defendant was a willing participant in the plot.

The prosecutor would not even have to show that you were aware of the scheme's full extent or any of the individuals involved to convict you of planning to commit a drug crime. In addition, while most federal conspiracy statutes require the defendant to commit an "overt act" to further the conspiracy to be convicted, this provision does not extend to drug conspiracy charges.


However, the prosecutor must prove that you were aware of the conspiracy's main goal. For example, if you are charged with conspiring to sell a controlled substance, the prosecutor must show that you were aware that you were participating in a plan with one or more other people to distribute the controlled substance.


Defending Against Drug Conspiracy


You can be charged with drug conspiracy even though you don't carry out the drug crime you supposedly conspired to commit. This offense can result in a lengthy jail term and hefty fines. Fortunately, all criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty by the prosecution, and it is up to the prosecution to prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


This does not imply that you committed the crime or were involved in the drug conspiracy, but rather that there is no other plausible reason for the evidence other than that you are guilty of the crime. Challenge the prosecution's version of events and raise fair doubt about your guilt to beat drug conspiracy charges and win your case. In your drug conspiracy case, your counsel will be able to use the following defense strategies:

  • There was no consensus.

  • You were completely unaware of the agreement.

  • You have no intention of signing the document.

  • You were either aware of the conspiracy or present when the agreement was reached, but you chose not to participate.

  • Under duress, the agreement was reached.

  • You backed out of the deal.

  • Entrapment was used against you.

  • The proof used against you was collected in an unauthorized search.


Manufacturing Drugs

Manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance, or possessing with the intent to manufacture, sell, or dispense, a controlled substance, is a criminal crime, and no matter how minor your supposed involvement in an alleged drug manufacturing activity, you could face drug manufacturing charges in federal court.


However, just because you've been charged with producing an illicit drug or controlled substance doesn't mean the government would be able to make its case and prosecute you. To obtain a guilty verdict in a drug production case, the prosecutor must prove the alleged criminal crime beyond a reasonable doubt, much as in any other criminal case. No matter what drug-related criminal charges you face, our California Criminal Defense Attorneys will assist you in mounting a strong defense.

What is the concept of drug manufacturing?

The illegal manufacturing of any drug or controlled substance, including marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, oxycodone, and other opioids, is prohibited in the United States. Drug manufacturing charges are often associated with growing marijuana plants or producing methamphetamine, but they can be applied to any situation where a controlled substance is made, developed, or manufactured.

You can face drug production charges in federal court even though you weren't actually involved in the manufacturing process but were suspected of selling supplies to someone who then used the materials to manufacture methamphetamine or another drug. It is possible to be charged with drug production even though you have never made any illegal drugs or illicit substances.

You can be charged with and prosecuted for drug production if you have the machinery, chemical ingredients, or other instruments or substances used to make illegal drugs or if you are accused of growing plants that contain controlled substances.


What Constitutes a Federal Offense in Drug Manufacturing?


Although several drug offenses are charged at the state level, drug manufacturing charges can be brought under federal court in some circumstances. 21 USC 841 makes it unlawful to "knowingly or deliberately – (1) produce, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or (2) create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance," according to the statute.

Individuals will face criminal charges for cultivating marijuana, which is known as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, except in California, where recreational use and possession of marijuana is legal, as well as the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants. The Controlled Substances Act takes precedence over state drug laws in California, according to the Supremacy Clause of Article IV of the United States Constitution, which ensures that cultivating any amount of marijuana in California is a violation of federal law. If you produce an unlawful product or cultivate marijuana on federal land (a violation of 21 USC 841(b)(5)), such as a national park, or if you cause environmental harm from illegal drug production (a violation of 21 USC 841(b)(6)), you may face federal charges.


The manufacturing of drugs is punishable by law


The various schedules of controlled substances, such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, as well as the penalties for possession, manufacture, and sale of these controlled substances, are established by federal drug laws. You can be charged with illegal drug manufacture if you take part in some part of the process of producing a controlled substance or illegal drug, and if you've been convicted of cooking methamphetamine, growing marijuana plants, or making LSD, the implications of a federal court conviction are serious. The specific penalties imposed on a defendant found guilty of drug manufacturing are highly dependent on the nature and quantity of the controlled substance he or she produced. Some of the criminal sanctions associated with the most commonly charged drug production offenses are as follows:

  • Planting fewer than 50 marijuana plants carries a sentence of up to five years in jail.

  • Planting 100 or more marijuana plants carries a sentence of five to forty years in prison.

  • Possession of 1,000 or more marijuana plants carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

  • Producing 5 grams or more of methamphetamine or 50 grams or more of a methamphetamine-containing product – Between five and forty years in jail

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  • Manufacturing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine or 500 grams or more of a methamphetamine-containing drug carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

  • Manufacturing any Schedule I or II controlled drug carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

  • Manufacturing any Schedule III controlled drug carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

  • Manufacturing any Schedule IV controlled drug carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

  • Manufacturing any Schedule V controlled drug carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

In drug processing cases, several aggravating factors can lead to harsher punishments. For example, if you are charged with manufacturing drugs in or near a school or college (a violation of 21 USC 860) or manufacturing drugs with children present (a violation of 21 USC 860(a)), you could face harsher penalties if convicted. If drug manufacturing is part of a larger criminal activity or organization, persons convicted of drug manufacturing can face additional criminal charges such as possession, drug trafficking, drug delivery, or even RICO charges.

Distribution of Drugs


Possession, manufacture, or sale of illicit narcotics or controlled substances known as having a potential for abuse are all examples of drug-related crimes. Selling, exporting, or importing illegal substances, as well as unlawfully distributing narcotics or prescription medications without registration, is a breach of state and federal law, and the effects of a federal drug trafficking arrest will affect the rest of your life.

According to national figures, drug offenses such as drug trafficking, which can result in prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life and fines in the millions of dollars, among other penalties, account for about 40% of all federal prosecutions. Almost all serious federal drug offenses, in reality, are subject to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which are rules that set strict minimum prison sentences for specific federal crimes. The most important thing you can do if you have been convicted or criminally charged with drug possession or if you suspect you are being investigated for drug distribution or drug trafficking is to employ an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney to represent you.


What is the concept of drug distribution?


The crime of selling, producing, distributing, or importing illicit narcotics or controlled substances, such as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine, is known as drug delivery. It is illegal for someone to "knowingly or intentionally:"

  • to produce, distribute, or dispense a controlled drug or to possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense one

  • to make, distribute, or dispense a counterfeit drug, or to possess with the intent to distribute or dispense one."

The unlawful selling or delivery of opioids or prescription drugs like oxycodone, amphetamines, fentanyl, and hydromorphone is also covered by this federal statute.

When is it a Federal Offense to Distribute Drugs?


Possessing, producing, or selling controlled substances is illegal in California, and federal criminal charges can be filed if a federal officer convicts you or if you are accused of distributing large amounts of narcotics or shipping, supplying, or importing the drugs across state lines. For example, when an individual tries to sell drugs to an undercover federal agent, federal drug trafficking charges are common.


Possessing an illicit drug or unlawful controlled substance is illegal, but selling without permission, supplying, or possessing with the intent to sell or distribute an illegal drug or unlawful controlled substance is a criminal offense with much harsher consequences. In general, most drug possession cases are handled at the state level in California, while drug production, distribution, and trafficking charges are more likely to be tried in federal court.


Conviction for Drug Distribution


Drug offenses are severely punished in California and around the country, and whether you are a first-time offender or a repeat offender, you can expect to face strict punishments, including a lengthy jail sentence, if you are convicted of federal drug trafficking. In reality, federal drug cases also include mandatory minimum prison sentences, which are determined by federal sentencing guidelines, which mandate that a criminal convicted of a federal drug offense serve a minimum time in prison rather than allowing the judge to hear the case to determine the penalty.

Drug distribution is close to drug trafficking in nature, and both are prohibited under the same federal law, implying that the penalties for both are the same. The specific criminal sanctions that arise from a drug trafficking conviction differ based on the facts of the case, such as the nature and amount of drugs involved, the location of the suspected distribution, and the defendant's criminal background.

For example, if you are charged with possessing 100 grams or more of PCP or 10 grams or more of LSD as a federal crime, you could face a prison sentence of 10 years to life and $10 million in fines, with an extended minimum sentence of 20 years to life in prison if death or serious injury occurs from the use of the drug or controlled substance. If you've been convicted of a felony drug offense before, you could face a minimum term of 15 years in jail.

Individuals convicted of drug trafficking in federal court can face substantial additional penalties, such as forfeiture of their cars, assets, houses, and other personal property, in addition to a lengthy jail term and costly fines.

Defense of Drug Distribution by the Federal Government


Just because you've been charged with drug possession doesn't mean you'll be found guilty of the crime. In reality, there are a variety of possible defenses to drug trafficking charges that can be raised in court. Even if the government has what seems to be irrefutable proof that you are guilty of drug distribution, if the police did not follow due procedure in collecting the evidence against you, your counsel might be able to get the evidence dismissed, resulting in the criminal charges against you being dropped. To be legitimately convicted of drug distribution, the prosecutor must prove the following "elements" of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You knowingly had an illegal drug or controlled substance on your person.

  • You did so to unlawfully sell, deliver, or distribute the substance.

To prove that you committed the crime of drug trafficking, you must have "constructive" possession of an illicit drug or controlled substance, which means you have the power and intention to control the drug. Furthermore, you can satisfy the delivery portion of a drug distribution fee even though you never transported, sold, or distributed the drug. Under federal law, you can be found guilty of drug possession if you intend to sell or dispense the drug.

Defense Strategies for Drug Distribution Charges


Possession is the most common drug offense, and to be elevated to sale, the criminal must be convicted of unlawfully selling, delivering, or supplying the drugs rather than merely possessing them for personal use, which carries a lesser penalty. Many drug trafficking charges occur when the prosecutor only has circumstantial evidence of the defendant's intent to sell rather than solid evidence that the defendant sold or distributed a controlled substance.


For example, even though you aren't caught selling or distributing the drugs, you might face trafficking charges if you have a large amount of heroin in your possession or a large sum of money from suspected heroin sales. This allows the California Defense Lawyer to contest the prosecutor's argument by presenting a convincing defense that contradicts the prosecutor's version of events. Your counsel will be able to use the following tactics to protect you against drug trafficking charges:

  • You were completely unaware of the substance's illegal status.

  • You didn't have the substance with you.

  • Entrapment was used against you.

  • You have a valid prescription for the drug.

  • An unlawful search and seizure collected the evidence for the prosecution.

  • The evidence presented by the prosecution was tampered with.

  • There isn't enough proof for the prosecutor to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • You have no intention of selling or distributing the medications.

  • The police officer lacked probable cause to detain you.


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