The federal sentencing guidelines for drugs are hard to understand and vary according to factors such as the specific crime charged and the type and quantity of the drug alleged. While only an experienced federal criminal law attorney can provide counsel regarding what to expect in a specific case, the following is a guideline as to what to expect if you are facing federal charges for possession of a controlled substance.
What Is A Federal Charge For Possession Of A Controlled Substance?
Possession of a controlled substance under federal law is to knowingly and intentionally manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with the intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.
Possession of a controlled substance is likely a federal drug charge if it:
- Occurred on federal property;
- Crossed state lines or involved importing drugs into the country;
- Was investigated by a federal law enforcement agency, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA);
- Involved other offenses such as firearm possession in furthering the drug activity or money laundering related to the drug proceeds;
- Was related to organized crime or a continuing criminal enterprise;
- Involved the sale of large drug quantities;
- Involved transporting drugs through mail couriers like USPS, UPS, or FedEx; or
- Was discovered through a federal informant.
The quantity of the drug may also determine whether the charges are brought by federal or state law enforcement.
Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing For Drug Offenses
Federal drug offenses, even those for possession of a controlled substance, can mean a mandatory minimum prison sentence. In other words, the judge must have no choice but to sentence you to a minimum term of imprisonment. Whether a mandatory minimum sentence applies, depends on the specific crime charged, as well as the type and quantity of the drug alleged.
Mandatory minimum sentences do not apply to simple possession of a controlled substance where the quantity of the drugs possessed is for personal use. However, a mandatory minimum sentence of five years applies for first offenses involving quantities of more than:
- 1 gram of LSD;
- 5 grams of methamphetamine if pure (or 50 grams if mixed);
- 10 grams of PCP if pure (or 100 grams if mixed);
- 28 grams of crack cocaine;
- 100 grams of heroin;
- 500 grams of cocaine; and
- 100 kilograms of marijuana (or 100 marijuana plant).
The mandatory minimum sentence increases to 10 years for the following quantities:
- 10 grams of LSD;
- 50 grams of methamphetamine if pure (or 500 grams if mixed);
- 100 grams of PCP if pure (or 1 kilogram if mixed);
- 280 grams of crack cocaine;
- 1 kilogram of heroin;
- 5 kilograms of cocaine; and
- 1000 kilograms of marijuana (or 1000 marijuana plants).
If there is a similar prior conviction, the mandatory minimum sentences increase to 10 years and 20 years.
Exceptions To Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing For Drug Offenses
There are few exceptions to the mandatory minimum sentence laws. One is cooperation with the federal government. Another is by means of the “safety valve” provision.
The safety valve provision allows the judge to impose whatever sentence he or she thinks is appropriate after consulting sentencing guidelines and considering statutory sentencing factors in cases where:
- The person is a first-time, non-violent drug offender with no or minimal criminal history;
- The person did not use violence or possess a weapon in connection with the offense;
- The offense did not result in death or serious physical injury;
- The person was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others involved in the offense, and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise;
- The person provides the government with a truthful statement containing all the information he or she has about the offense prior to being sentenced.
Experienced Houston Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help
If you or a loved one is facing federal charges for possession of a controlled substance, you need an attorney who specializes in federal criminal law. The attorneys at Vinas & Graham understand the federal criminal system and work within it every day. Our experienced federal criminal attorneys have the resources and skills to match federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents.
Contact Vinas & Graham today to discuss your federal drug possession charge. We will meet with you to determine if the facts of your case fall within the safety valve provision and help guide you through the complex federal criminal law system. Be sure to like and follow us on Facebook for more Texas laws and news.