DRUG OFFENSES IN FEDERAL COURT CARRY SEVERE PENALTIES
Most drug cases involve not only the sentencing guidelines, which are quite harsh in drug cases, but also involve various statutory “mandatory minimum” sentences, which are dependent upon the amount of drugs involved. Many drug cases in federal court carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years by statute regardless of what the Sentencing Guidelines say a defendant ought to receive for a particular case.
A defendant can be held accountable for drugs possessed by another person simply if the defendant and the other person engaged in “joint criminal activity” and the other drugs were “foreseeable” to the defendant. Sentences are particularly harsh in cases involving crack cocaine and methamphetamine. For example, if it is found that a defendant, with no criminal history, possessed with the intent to distribute 50 grams of crack (or even if only part of the 50 grams was possessed by the defendant and the rest was possessed by a co-conspirator and “foreseeable” to the defendant), the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison.
If a defendant is charged with a drug case that carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years there are only a few ways to get the actual sentence under that 10 year floor. These involve things such as 5(k)(1) cooperation and “safety valve”. These are very detailed and specific applications that a good attorney should be able to discuss with you. In addition, as mentioned above, certain drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine or “cocaine base” carry even higher penalties than other drugs such as regular powder cocaine and marijuana.
Because of the way that the conspiracy statutes work in federal court as opposed to state court, a defendant can actually be charged, tried and sentenced to drug amounts substantially in excess of what he or she may have actually been personally responsible for. Also if a defendant is charged with a drug case in federal court and has previously been convicted of two or more serious drug offenses before, he can be considered a career criminal and receive a life sentence for this third offense. There are also severe sentence enhancements for drug offenders that possess or use a firearm while in the commission of their current drug offense.