Federal Drug Crimes
People generally associate laws pertaining to the use, possession and sale of illegal drugs as emanating from state legislatures. Recent efforts to legalize the sale and use of marijuana in some states called attention to the significance of federal drug laws as the U.S. Department of Justice threatened prosecution of sellers and distributors of marijuana despite changes to state laws.
Federal jurisdiction over the sale and distribution of illegal drugs is authorized by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution pertaining to interstate commerce. Most federal drug crimes involve the movement of drugs across state lines or occur on federal property.
Federal Drug Crimes
Prosecutions for drug possession, manufacture and sale are usually handled under state law. Federal drug crimes usually involve larger quantities of drugs and criminal activities that include:
- Drug trafficking
- Manufacturing operations
- Continuing criminal enterprises involving the distribution and sale of illegal drugs
- Selling or distributing drugs in school zones or other protected zones such as playgrounds
Federal jurisdiction over many drug crimes is the result of the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The law makes it illegal for a person to knowingly and intentionally distribute, manufacture, dispense or possess with the intent to distribute, manufacture or dispense a controlled substance or a counterfeit substance. The Controlled Substances Act is updated each year to add new drugs to the list of substances that are illegal in the United States.
Penalties and Consequences
Federal drug crimes are punished as serious violations of the law and require the assistance of experienced legal counsel. Generally, a conviction for violating federal drug laws results in a prison sentence. Judges take into consideration several factors when deciding upon the sentence to be imposed in a particular case. Although federal law imposes minimum mandatory sentences for certain federal drug crimes, judges have a great deal of discretion. Factors that might influence a judge when deciding on the sentence to impose include:
- Defendant’s criminal record: A defendant without a criminal history might receive probation or a shorter sentence than a person who has prior criminal convictions
- Type and amount of drugs: Certain drugs, such as crack cocaine, or large amounts of drugs could result in a longer period of imprisonment
- Distribution of drugs to minors: Distributing to minors or using a minor to distribute drugs will usually result in a higher sentence
As a consequence of a conviction for violating federal drug laws, the government can commence a forfeiture proceeding to seize and sell a convicted person’s real and personal property. Such actions are authorized where the property was used in connection with the drug crimes or was purchased the profits from selling drugs.
Federal Drug Crimes Defense
Most federal drug crimes prosecutions rely upon evidence seized by law enforcement agencies either with or without a search warrant. Unless the search and seizure performed in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and federal laws that protect an individual’s privacy rights, the defense might launch a challenge to the the use of the evidence to prove the guilt of the suspect.