Federal Sentencing in Drug Trafficking Cases

In Drug Traffickingby johncannon

STATUTES AND GUIDELINES FOR FEDERAL CRIMES

What are Sentencing Guidelines for Federal Crimes?

Federal sentencing guidelines provide a guide to federal judges and federal criminal defendants on the range of punishment the U.S. Probation Office deems appropriate for a given federal criminal defendant facing specific federal criminal charges on their indictment. The federal sentencing guidelines are set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for federal felonies and Class A federal misdemeanor offenses.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Booker, which determined federal criminal sentencing guidelines, which were then mandatory, violated a defendant’s constitutional right to a trial by jury. Since the Court’s decision in 2005, guidelines are since only guidelines on federal criminal sentencing.

What are the Types of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines?

  • Indeterminate Sentencing Statutes: indeterminate sentences do not have a specific duration, and they do not list a specific start-time or end-time. Instead, they list prison time ranges, such as “one-to-three years.”
  • Determinate Sentencing Statutes: Determinate sentencing statutes, on the other hand, have a fixed duration of prison time. This does not mean that the person convicted of a crime will serve the entire sentence (they may be released early for good behavior or overcrowding, for example) but they are in prison for a defined amount of time.

Below is a federal sentencing table used by judges to determine the maximum and minimum sentences.

FEDERAL DRUG TRAFFICKING

What the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for my Federal Drug Trafficking Offense?

Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is important when facing federal drug trafficking charges. For certain federal drug convictions, judges are required to impose minimum criminal sentences. A federal judge who sentences a person who trafficked the following amount of illegal substances under a drug trafficking charge must give that defendant at least 10 years of prison time:

  • 1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin;
  • 5 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of: coca leaves, except coca leaves and extracts of coca leaves from which cocaine, ecgonine, and (1) derivatives of ecgonine or their salts have been removed; (2) cocaine, its salts, optical and geometric isomers, and salts of isomers; (3) ecgonine, its derivatives, their salts, isomers, and salts of isomers; or (4) any compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of any of the substances referred to in subclauses (I) through (III);
  • 280 grams or more of a mixture or substance described in clause (ii) which contains cocaine base;
  • 100 grams or more of phencyclidine (PCP) or 1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of phencyclidine (PCP);
  • 10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD);
  • 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] propanamide or 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] propanamide;
  • 1000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marihuana, or 1,000 or more marihuana plants regardless of weight; or
  • 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, and salts of its isomers or 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers;

Federal criminal judges must abide by mandatory minimum sentences, if your federal drug trafficking case is resolved as drug trafficking for the amount of the specified drug above or if you are convicted at trial of federal drug trafficking charges. The mandatory minimum on many federal drug trafficking offenses is ten years in federal prison.

These minimum sentences for trafficking drugs of 1 kilo or more is longer (20 years) if death or serious injury results, or the defendant has a prior drug felony conviction. In the event that a person is convicted of this drug trafficking charge and they have two or more drug felony convictions, the minimum sentence is life in prison.

Further, if a judge sentences a person of trafficking the following list of illegal substances, the minimum sentence a judge can impose is 5 years, and the maximum is 40 years in prison:

  • 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin;
  • 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of-- 1. coca leaves, except coca leaves and extracts of coca leaves from which cocaine, ecgonine, and derivatives of ecgonine or their salts have been removed; 2. cocaine, its salts, optical and geometric isomers, and salts of isomers; 3. ecgonine, its derivatives, their salts, isomers, and salts of isomers; or 4. any compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of any of the substances referred to in subclauses (I) through (III);
  • 28 grams or more of a mixture or substance described in clause (ii) which contains cocaine base;
  • 10 grams or more of phencyclidine (PCP) or 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of phencyclidine (PCP);
  • 1 gram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD);
  • 40 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] propanamide or 10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] propanamide;
  • 100 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marihuana, or 100 or more marihuana plants regardless of weight; or
  • 5 grams or more of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, and salts of its isomers or 50 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers;

These minimum sentences can be extended to 10 years if the defendant is a repeat offender or 20 years in federal prison, if as a result of the federal drug trafficking charges a person lost their life or serious injury results from the crime. If the defendant is both a repeat offender and has suffered death or serious injury, the minimum sentence is life in prison.

Lesser possessions, such as a “simple” possession of a controlled substance with only one prior conviction has a mandatory minimum sentence of only 15 days, but up to 2 years in prison. If they have 2 or more prior convictions, the minimum sentence is 90 days, but up to 3 years in prison.

Other references:

Drug Conversion Calculator

Drug Quantity Calculator

NEGOTIATING SENTENCES

Guilty Pleas in Federal Court

Pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for federal criminal charges is a difficult decision to make; however, acceptance of responsibility is a positive factor in federal sentencing and can help to reduce the sentence you will serve in your case. Many factors must be considered before deciding to enter a plea in your federal criminal case, including:

Strength of the evidence the federal prosecutor has against you Strength of the evidence in support of your defense Exclusion of illegally obtained evidence against you Familiarity with federal sentencing guidelines and potential for departures or variances in your favor to lessen the potential sentence in your federal criminal case Substantial assistance to authorities to reduce exposure in your case Sufficiency of evidence against you to meet the elements of your criminal charges

Another important consideration in deciding to enter a plea in a federal criminal case or go to trial is the charges that you are facing in your federal criminal case. In many federal criminal cases by agreeing to enter a plea of guilty you will avoid prosecutor for additional charges or an agreement can be reached for dismissal of some of the charges you are facing, i.e. avoid a superseding indictment with additional felony charges. Federal prosecutors are motivated to resolve cases by plea agreement for the protection of law enforcement resources, to avoid subjecting a victim to a lengthy and uncertain jury trial, and the prosecutor will have more time for other work by avoiding lengthy trial preparation.

What are Federal Plea Agreements?

Plea agreements are a very common means for defendants to avoid the time and potential exposure of going to trail on a federal criminal case. Your federal criminal defense attorney will seek to obtain the best terms possible for your plea agreement, if you want to enter a guilty plea in federal court. Under federal plea agreements, a defendant can agree to plea in three ways: guilty, not guilty, and nolo contendere (no contest).

Do Restrictions exist in Federal Plea Agreements?

Yes, in some cases additional restrictions apply in plea bargain cases in federal court. Federal prosecutors cannot negotiate plea agreements that change civil liabilities for the defendant. Plea bargains in federal court may not impact national security, without involvement of the federal law enforcement agency involved or appropriate government agencies consent. Pleas of no contests are rarely granted by federal judges as policy states those that choose to maintain their innocence in federal court should take their case to jury trial.

Federal Judges and Accepting Guilty Pleas

Once you and your federal criminal defense attorney have reached the decision to enter a plea in your federal criminal case you will be required to appear before the court and make a proffer. The federal judge over your case will place you under oath to tell the truth and will ask you questions in open court to ensure you are making a knowing and voluntary decision.

The judge will advise you of your rights and ensure that you understand each one, including your right to plead not guilty and exercise your right to a jury trial. You have a right to be represented by counsel at every pertinent stage of your case and you or your lawyer have the right to question witnesses in your case, along with the right to be free from testifying and self-incrimination. Additionally, you have the right to present evidence on your behalf in your case.

The federal judge in your case will advise you that upon acceptance of your guilty plea, you will have waived and forfeited those rights. At that point, the court will advise you of each charge you are facing, the possible punishment, and other collateral consequences in your case, such as forfeiture of assets or deportation, if applicable. Upon deciding that your plea is voluntary and knowingly entered, the court will accept or reject your plea and upon acceptance a sentencing date will be set in your case.

SENTENCING FACTORS

The federal sentencing guidelines establish Sentencing Factors, which the Court must consider in reaching a determination of a federal criminal defendant’s sentence. The factors are listed at 18 U.S.C. §3553(a). The factors are intended to assist the court in reaching a sentencing that is enough, but not more than necessary to meet sentencing objectives: deterrence, protection for the public, rehabilitation, punishment, and promote respect for law and the seriousness of the offense. The 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors are a required consideration by a sentencing court, along with the guidelines. The factors are as follows:

  • The nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the Defendant;
  • The need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law and to provide just punishment for the offense; to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and to provide the defendant with needed vocational training, medical care, or other effective correctional treatment;
  • The kind of sentences available;
  • The advisory guideline range;
  • Any pertinent policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission;
  • The need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities; and
  • The need to provide restitution to the victims of the offense, where applicable.

Additional Sentencing Considerations

Criminal Conduct and Convictions

A sentencing judge can consider a broad range of information about a federal defendant in order to give the most appropriate and fair sentence. At sentencing, there is a lower bar for what information will be included and what the judge may consider. This means that a judge may not have permitted evidence of prior convictions, or even acquittals, during trial, but will allow them during sentencing. The purpose of this is to give the judge the most complete picture of the defendant. Prior convictions can be aggravating evidence which the federal judge uses to enhance a convicted defendant’s sentence. The criminal history determination has a major impact in sentencing a federal criminal defendant.

Refusal to Cooperate with Authorities

Another sentencing factor can be when the defendant either refuses, or agrees, to cooperate with authorities by providing information about other people who are engaged in criminal activities. If a defendant does not provide information regarding his co-conspirators in a drug trafficking charge, for example, the judge may be inclined to impose a heavier sentence. If he does provide information on his co-conspirators, he may receive a lighter sentence.

Substantial assistance to authorities may result in a downward departure from the guideline range for assisting authorities in the apprehension and/or prosecution of other federal criminal defendants. The Court may depart from the guidelines upon a motion by the government, U.S. Attorney’s office, for the defendant’s substantial assistance.

False Information

If a defendant was charged under extensively and materially misleading information, which the judge then relies upon to expand the sentence against that defendant, then there may be a constitutional due process defense in the sentencing.

Illegally Obtained Evidence

If evidence was obtained illegally, it may still make it in to sentencing. The judicial fear is that, by prohibiting this probative evidence about the defendant, the judge will impose a more lenient sentence than she would if the evidence had been allowed.

Victim-Impact Evidence

The most significant additional evidence which can be submitted for consideration during sentencing is victim-impact evidence. During sentencing, judges can allow victims to speak to the court about why they believe the defendant should, or in some cases should not, receive a harsher sentence.

Sentences Available to the Court

In the case at bar, would a probationary sentence be appropriate in lieu of incarceration. Additionally, would conditions of home confinement or electronic monitoring be sufficient to protect the public and deter the defendant from further criminal conduct.

Sentencing Commission Policy Statements

The Sentencing Commission has multiple official policy statements, which may include recommendations to the Court concerning the handling of certain issues. These policy statements are specific to certain situations and may be beneficial in considering the appropriate sentence.

Contact – Cannon & Associates: Federal Defense Advocates

Experience matters when you are defending a case in Federal Court. It is important to know the federal criminal defense lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of federal criminal law and federal criminal sentencing. Cannon & Associates is dedicated to Fierce Advocacy and will fight for your rights. Being arrested for a drug trafficking charge or any federal offense may lead to tough consequences, but Cannon & Associates is here to support and guide you through all of your options.

Founder John Cannon has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and Top 40 under 40 and knows what it takes to get you the outcome you deserve. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights and fight for your case in Oklahoma. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-657-2323 for a free confidential case evaluation.