Being charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs is an extremely serious Federal crime, and in almost all cases mandatory minimum sentences will apply. These minimum sentences mean that convictions can have major and long-term impacts on your life, and it is vitally important in these kinds of cases to know and understand the charges against you, what defenses can be raised. If you are charged with a Federal crime related to drug conspiracy, possession, manufacturing, or distributing, you need to speak to a lawyer right away. There are many different approaches that your lawyer can take to help get the charges dismissed, or reduce the time you may spend in Federal prison.
What Charges Can be Brought?
Drug distribution, including federal charges for conspiracy to distribute, are covered by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This is covered by Title 21 of the US Code, which includes definitions, offenses, and sentencing guidelines. 21 U.S. Code §841 sets out that:
It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally—
(1) to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or
(2) to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.
Charges brought under this section relate to the distribution of “controlled substances”, defined under 21 U.S. Code § 802 as:
… a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, included in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of part B of this subchapter. The term does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco, as those terms are defined or used in subtitle E of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
21 U.S. Code 812 then sets out a number of different substances that are covered by the CSA, such as those that have a high potential for misuse, those that have no currently accepted medical use, and those that do not have a level of accepted safety for use. It also includes substances that could have the potential for psychological or physical dependence, regardless of whether they also have accepted medical uses as well.
“Top of the List” of Drug Offenses
There are 8 substances which are considered to be “top of the list” in terms of drug offenses, which can face the most severe penalties. These are:
The CSA also applies to “counterfeit substances”, which means:
a controlled substance which, or the container or labeling of which, without authorization, bears the trademark, trade name, or other identifying mark, imprint, number, or device, or any likeness thereof, of a manufacturer, distributor, or dispenser other than the person or persons who in fact manufactured, distributed, or dispensed such substance…
If you are charged under section 841 for manufacturing, distributing, or possessing controlled or counterfeit substances, you could face penalties of 10 years of imprisonment at a minimum (up to a maximum of life imprisonment), or a minimum of 20 years of imprisonment if death or serious bodily injury resulted from your actions in manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing the controlled or counterfeit substance. You can also be fined up to $10,000,000.
If you already have previous drug-related felonies, you can face a minimum of 15 years of imprisonment or a minimum of life imprisonment if death or serious bodily injury resulted from your actions. If you have two or more previous convictions, the minimum sentence can be as high as 25 years imprisonment.
These are very high minimums and serious charges that can completely derail your life if you are convicted and do not get the sentence reduced. Contact our Tampa, FL based law firm to speak with an experienced drug crime attorney.
How does the Conspiracy Charge Fit In?
Under 21 U.S. Code § 846, you can be subject to the same penalties as the above offenses, if you have attempted or conspired to commit any of those offenses. Charges for conspiracy or attempt can also be included in addition to charges for distributing, manufacturing, or possessing. This means you could be charged with directly distributing some controlled substances, or charged with conspiracy to do so for other controlled substances, depending on your actions and whether you were working with other people or had made a plan to carry out one of the above offenses.
This means that the charges you are faced with can rapidly escalate.
To show that a person has been guilty of carrying out a conspiracy, the prosecutor must show that:
- there was an agreement to distribute the drugs;
- the person knew of the conspiracy; and
- the person intentionally joined the conspiracy.
Other factors that may be relevant include:
- how long the conspiracy had been carried out;
- whether establish systems or methods of payment or exchange were in place;
- whether parts of the process were standardized;
- whether the co-conspirators had shown a level of trust in each other;
- the amount of drugs exchanged; and
- whether “credit” was available for drug purchases.
The existence of the conspiracy can be directly shown, or can be inferred from the behavior of the people involved. Each conspirator does not need to know fully what each other member is doing.
How is Sentencing Carried Out?
The CSA itself has some provisions related to sentencing, including minimum sentences for particular amounts of controlled substances. As above, sentencing is determined by:
- the kind and amount of the substance involved;
- whether the the defendant has a criminal record; and
- whether any injuries or death were caused as a result of the offense.
In addition to the sentencing provisions in the CSA, the judge can also refer to and use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, if the defendant meets a particular set of criteria that should potentially reduce the sentencing to below the minimums set out in the CSA.
One potential option for defendants is the “safety valve” provisions, that allow low-level, non-violent, first-time offenders to avoid minimum sentencing requirements, if they also cooperate with the authorities. This safety valve provision can help you to avoid long imprisonment terms, especially if it is your first-time offense or the amount of controlled substance involved was small. A lawyer will need to help you to work with the prosecutor to look into safety valve consideration.
What Defenses are Available?
To defend against a charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, there are a number of different approaches that could be taken.
- Substance. First, charges can be challenged based on the amount of controlled or counterfeit substance that was being manufactured or distributed, or whether the substance was actually a controlled or counterfeit substance at all. If you are engaged in legitimate production of medicines, or you were caught in possession of something for personal use in small amounts, this can potentially reduce the sentence you are given.
- Knowledge. A critical element of showing that someone was involved in a conspiracy is first that there was a conspiracy, and second that the defendant knew about it. If you have evidence that you did not have knowledge of it, you can argue that you were not part of the conspiracy.
- Extent. Another important factor is to argue that the extent of the conspiracy was minimal, or that it was not organized and standardized. This goes some way as to reducing the likelihood that a conspiracy charge is upheld at all, and may also reduce your sentence.
- Safety Valve. Finally, speak to a lawyer about whether safety valve provisions could apply to you. Prosecutors could decide to ignore minimum sentencing requirements if you have been involved in a low-level, first time, non-violent offense, and agree to assist prosecutors with the investigation.
Call Stechschulte Nell For Help
If you have been charged with conspiracy to distribute or manufacture a controlled substance or counterfeit substance, the law office of Stechschulte Nell can advise you. Don’t wait. Call our top-rated Florida law firm at (813) 280-1244 to speak to an experienced federal defense attorney. We’re available 24/7 to take your call.