How We Defend Federal Drug Cases

Federal drug charges are among the most serious offenses one can face in the United States. With the threat of severe penalties, including potential prison sentences exceeding 20 years and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, having a skilled and experienced criminal defense law firm is crucial. In Florida, some experienced criminal defense attorneys extremely well-versed in the complexities of federal drug laws.  

At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we employ strategic defenses to protect our clients’ rights. In light of the various levels of federal drug crimes, clients should know how their attorneys’ fact analysis and legal knowledge shape their defense strategies, and the possible defenses that can be applied. This article explains the way the crime defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell typically defend someone charged with federal drug crimes.  

If you are facing federal drug-related charges in Florida, contact Stechschulte Nell today.  

Levels of Federal Drug Crimes 

Federal drug crimes are categorized into several levels, depending on the type and quantity of the controlled substance involved, the nature of the offense, and whether the accused has prior convictions. The main levels include: 

Possession: This is the least severe federal drug crime and involves possessing a controlled substance for personal use. Penalties can still be harsh, especially if the amount exceeds personal use limits or if the substance is highly controlled. 

Statute: 21 U.S.C. § 844 

  • Maximum Penalty: For a first offense, up to 1 year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000. 

Distribution: This charge applies when an individual is accused of selling or delivering drugs. The severity of the charge increases with the quantity of the drugs or if the facts involve minors or occurs in a protected zone, like near schools. 

Statute: 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) 

  • Maximum Penalty: Penalties depend on the drug involved and quantity. For example, distributing 500 grams or more of cocaine can result in 5 to 40 years in prison.  

Manufacturing: This offense involves producing illegal drugs, either through cultivation or chemical synthesis. Penalties are severe due to the potential harm to public health and safety. 

Statute: 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) 

  • Maximum Penalty: Like drug distribution charges, penalties vary based on the type of drug involved and the quantity. For large-scale manufacturing, penalties can include 10 years to life imprisonment and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. 

Trafficking: Trafficking is one of the most serious drug crimes. Trafficking involves large quantities of drugs and often includes organized crime and international smuggling elements. Sentences are usually extremely long. 


Statute: 21 U.S.C. § 841(b) 

  • Maximum Penalty: Trafficking penalties can include 10 years to life imprisonment, depending on the drug type and quantity. Fines can reach up to $10 million for individuals or $50 million for organizations. 

Conspiracy: This charge can apply even if the individual did not directly handle the drugs but was involved in planning or coordinating the drug-related activity. 

Statute: 21 U.S.C. § 846 

  • Maximum Penalty: The penalties for conspiracy are the same as for the underlying drug offense. As an example, conspiring to distribute large quantities of methamphetamine can result in 10 years to life imprisonment, even if the person charged never touched the drugs. 

Fact Analysis and Legal Knowledge 

When defending federal drug charges in Florida, our approach in every case begins with a thorough analysis of the facts. This includes: 

  • Reviewing Evidence – Our federal drug defense lawyers scrutinize all evidence collected by law enforcement, including surveillance footage, witness statements, and physical evidence. We search for inconsistencies, significant procedural errors, and evidence obtained through unlawful means. These elements can be powerful shields protecting our client from an unjust or illegal prosecution. 
  • Understanding the Charges – Federal drug laws are complex, and understanding the specific statutory charge is crucial. Stechschulte Nell defense lawyers are very familiar with the statutes, sentencing guidelines, and the relevant up-to-date case law. 
  • Investigating the Case – Investigations by the defense team can uncover new evidence, contradictory evidence conflicting with prosecution witness statements, or alternative mitigating explanations. This often involves interviewing witnesses, examining the scenes at which the alleged events occurred, or consulting with scientific experts. 

Some Strategic Defense Approaches 

Our strategy for defending a federal drug charge depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Common defense strategies we employ when the facts fit include these: 

Challenging the Search and Seizure: The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If law enforcement agents or police violated a client’s right to be free from such invasive intrusions, any evidence obtained may be inadmissible in court. Our attorneys examine whether the search warrant was valid, whether there was sufficient probable cause, and whether all required legal procedures were followed. 

Violation of Other Rights of the Defendant: The defendant’s other legal rights must also be protected by the defense attorney. For example, the law requires the government law enforcement agents to advise the defendant of his Miranda rights before a custodial interrogation. The circumstances under which any inculpatory statement was made by the defendant must be carefully analyzed to determine whether they were in custody and were informed of their Miranda rights. If not, then suppressing the defendant’s statement for violation of their Fifth Amendment rights.  

Lack of Possession:  In many cases, skilled drug defense lawyers use the evidence to demonstrate that the defendant did not actually possess the drugs in question, either physically or constructively. Establishing reasonable doubt as to that element can lead to a dismissal or acquittal. This can be particularly effective in cases involving multiple individuals or locations. 

Questioning the Evidence: A central part of a federal defense attorney’s job is challenging the credibility, reliability, and chain of custody of all the government’s evidence. This includes questioning the accuracy of drug tests, the handling of evidence, and the integrity of law enforcement procedures. If the prosecution cannot provide enough credible evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the charges can be dropped or reduced. 

Evidence of Entrapment: If law enforcement agents induced or prodded the defendant to commit a crime they would not have otherwise committed, an entrapment defense is a viable strategy. This involves demonstrating that the idea and motivation for the crime originated from the government agents, not the defendant. 

Lack of Knowledge or Intent: Federal drug charges require proof that the defendant knowingly and intentionally committed the criminal acts. If the defendant was unaware that they were in possession of drugs or did not intend to distribute them, this can form the basis of a defense. 


Read More> Navigating Federal Arrest Warrants 


Get Experienced Federal Drug Defense Lawyers in Florida 

If you are facing criminal indictment in federal court for violation of the federal drug laws, contact defense lawyers who know the federal law and the federal court rules of evidence and procedure. Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, in Tampa is prepared to provide you with the benefit of their federal court experience and extensive knowledge of the law. 

Contact us for a case review today at 813-280-1244. 

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