There are many challenges and strategies a defense attorney can employ when representing a client charged with drug trafficking on either state or federal levels. Many defenses challenge whether the search was conducted legally or law enforcement agents acted within the scope of their authority. While these are valid and important issues to raise, an expert criminal defense attorney also may challenge law enforcement agencies determination of the weight or consistency of the drugs to the benefit of their client.
Weight of the Drugs
Under mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, the weight of drugs is a critical factor in determining sentences in federal court and in some state systems as well. The weights that trigger higher minimum sentences depend on the type of drug as well as the quantity. For first offenses, the following sentences were established by federal law and must be followed by judges:
- 500-4999 grams – minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years
- 5 kilograms or more – minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years
- 5-49 grams pure or 50-499 grams mixture – minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years
- 50 grams or more pure or 500 grams or more mixture – minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years
Defendants must remember that these are the minimum sentences a judge must hand down. Often the greater the amount of drugs found in the defendant’s possession, the longer the sentence will be, potentially up to the maximum allowed by law.
An expert criminal defense attorney can challenge the weight of the drugs as determined by law enforcement agents. Two important questions the attorney will ask are:
- Were the drugs actually weighed or were packets counted and a total amount assumed?
- Was the weight of the packaging a part of the final number?
Depending on the skill of the defense attorney, these questions can mean the difference between probation, five years in prison or ten years in prison.
Consistency of the Drug
This issue most often arises with synthetic marijuana cases. It is common for synthetic marijuana to be combined with other drugs. Some prosecutors want to charge the defendant with the penalties for the other drug included in the mix, which usually carries much higher penalties. For first time offenders charged for having 50 kilograms of marijuana face a maximum sentence of no more than 5 years. This means that many defendants receive less than 5 years or could have a probationary sentence.
If the defendant is instead charged for drug trafficking of 50 kilograms of cocaine or another drug that had been mixed with the marijuana, the minimum mandatory sentence is now 10 years. An expert defense attorney can plead that the primary substance in the mix is marijuana charges should be brought accordingly.
Hiring the best attorney possible is the key to a successful defense. Ben Stechschulte has prosecuted these types of cases as a board certified expert in criminal trial law, defending clients against drug trafficking charges. He understands these cases, how the system works, and what is necessary to best represent his clients.