At the Rossen Law Firm, we regularly defend against high-profile drug trafficking cases with profound nuances and harsh penalties. If you or a family member have been charged with drug trafficking or possession or believe you are under investigation, you need a knowledgeable defense attorney to protect you and help you achieve your best future. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge and trial experience, ensuring our clients have the best possible care in the South Florida area.
UNDERSTANDING DRUG CONSPIRACY
Drug trafficking conspiracy is illegal under 21 U.S. Code § 846, and resulting charges constitute a serious federal crime. This statute defines conspiracy as two people agreeing to commit a crime.
If you or a member of your family face charges related to a drug trafficking conspiracy or suspect that you are under federal investigation for drug conspiracy, it is crucial to seek the guidance of an experienced defense attorney to secure the best possible outcome for your future. At the Rossen Law Firm, our attorneys have extensive knowledge, trial experience, and a record of success. This foundation allows them to provide exceptional legal representation in South Florida.
Conspiracy charges occur when two or more people agree to commit a crime. Conspiracy charges have three elements:
- An agreement to commit a crime
- An intent to commit a crime
- An act to execute the agreement
An example of an instance that can result in drug conspiracy charges is agreeing to distribute illegal drugs. If there was a set agreement between two or more people and they acted on executing this plan, the government can charge the conspiracy members as co-conspirators since these individuals violated federal law under 21 U.S. Code § 846.
Someone accused of a drug conspiracy can be charged for their acts and the acts of others involved in the conspiracy. For instance, individuals involved can still be charged even if someone is not the primary participant in an actual crime. Moreover, individuals can also be charged even if they do not know the other conspiracy members or their involvement.
In some scenarios, the crime may not have been completed, but the conspiracy members will still be charged. For example, many drug conspiracy cases involve one conspiring member to be a cooperating witness or an undercover member of law enforcement. This demonstrates that conspiring individuals can still be charged with drug conspiracy despite the act needing to be officially completed or carried out.
The most important aspect of a drug conspiracy is the agreement. For an individual to be found guilty of drug conspiracy, the “agreement” must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Drug and attempted drug conspiracy are illegal in the Controlled Substances Act.
Even though an individual may not have directly conspired with another person or people in the overall scheme, the accused has, in effect, agreed to participate in the conspiracy if the government can prove each of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- First, the accused directly conspired with one or more conspirators to carry out at least one of the objects of the conspiracy;
- Second, the accused knew or had reason to know that other conspirators were involved with those with whom the accused directly conspired and
- Third, the accused had reason to believe that whatever benefits the accused might derive from the conspiracy depended on the success of the entire venture.
OVERT ACTS TO FURTHER THE FEDERAL DRUG CONSPIRACY
Aside from agreements, members of the conspiracy must also take specific actions that advance the conspiracy. In federal court under 21 U.S. Code § 846, the indictment will outline the acts in which each member of the charged conspiracy is alleged to have been involved. These roles can range from selling illegal drugs to providing another conspiracy member with information.
Some examples of involvement are:
- A direct action such as showing up at a drug deal or selling the drugs
- An indirect action, such as providing another member of the conspiracy with necessary information
- Assisting in furthering the success of the conspiracy
Federal drug conspiracies must have a connection to interstate commerce. While the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement agencies extends to drug-related crimes, the reality is that prosecutions for federal drug conspiracies prioritize cases involving substantial drug sales or activities linked to gangs, terrorism, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, or other matters of international significance.
The local state criminal courts will prosecute most low-level drug sales involving personal-use quantities unrelated to criminal activities.
FEDERAL SENTENCING LAW
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines set out a uniform sentencing policy for individuals and organizations convicted of felonies and serious (Class A) misdemeanors in the United States federal courts system. These guidelines affect the length of the official sentencing.
Many people charged with a drug offense or conspiracy also face a federal investigation by law enforcement that can uncover video or audio recordings of the alleged drug sales and activity. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through this process is crucial to ensure the best outcome for your future.
According to the Sentencing Guidelines, there are specific penalties for each type of drug offense. Penalties become more severe depending on factors such as:
- Type of drug
- Quantity of drug
- Quality of drug
- An individual’s history of drug-related offenses and their potential role within a drug trafficking organization (DTO)
DRUG CONSPIRACY PENALTIES
Drug conspiracy is a separate charge from the charge that contributes to the criminal act, so the punishments and penalties depend on the drug involved.
Penalties for drug conspiracy cases are determined by the type and amount of the drug utilized in the conspiracy charge. If a large amount of a more severe drug (such as methamphetamine or fentanyl), the penalties and federal sentencing will be more severe in fines and imprisonment.
Below are some drugs and their penalties:
- 100g or more – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
- 1kg or more – mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum 40 years.
- 500g or more of cocaine, 28g or more of crack cocaine – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, a maximum sentence of 40 years
- 5kg or more of cocaine, 280g or more of crack cocaine – minimum 10 years in federal prison, a maximum life sentence
- 5g or more – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
- 50g or more – minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum life sentence
- Less than 5g – no mandatory minimum prison sentence, 20-year maximum sentence
- Opioids and GHB
- There is no mandatory minimum prison sentence; the maximum sentence is 20 years
- Enhanced penalties if the drug involved in the conspiracy causes death or serious bodily injury to someone
- Enhanced penalties if the accused has a prior felony conviction for a drug-related crime
Drug crimes are among the most common charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences. In drug crimes, federal law regulates the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, export, import, and possession of certain plants, drugs, and chemicals. These are considered controlled substances and classified according to their medicinal value and potential for abuse under the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act. The acts contain several mandatory minimum penalties.
Most mandatory minimum sentences involve possession intending to distribute (traffic) substantial amounts of controlled substances considered highly susceptible to abuse. The mandatory minimums are structured so that more severe sentences are given in cases involving substantial quantities, death or serious bodily injury, or repeat offenders.
There are specific penalties associated with each type of drug offense. While each type is different, they typically have harsh penalties such as imprisonment and expensive fines. Each charge also contains a minimum sentence sentencing amount, potential for life in maximum penalties, and deportation.
Additionally, penalties become more severe depending on factors such as:
- Type of drug
- Quantity of drug
- Quality of drug
- An individual’s client’s history of drug-related offenses and their potential role within a drug trafficking organization (DTO)
Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct schedules (categories) depending upon the drug’s abuse or addiction potential. The abuse rate is a determinant factor in the scheduling of the drug; for example, Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence. As the drug schedule changes (Schedule II, Schedule III, etc.), so does the abuse potential. For example, Schedule V drugs represent the least potential for abuse.
It is important to note that the guidelines as it relates to drug cases are going to change in November 2023. The Rossen Law Firm has been zealously advocating for judges during the sentencing phase to apply the upcoming November fighting for judges when sentencing our clients to apply the upcoming November 2023 sentencing guidelines instead of the 2021 guidelines.
DRUG CONSPIRACY DEFENSES
The success of your defense frequently depends upon the specifics of your case and the abilities of your defense attorney.
Below are some defenses that our attorneys frequently use when defending against drug conspiracy charges:
- Illegally obtained evidence: A search and seizure warrant is a legal document issued by a judge that allows law enforcement to search specific locations, items, or evidence. Law enforcement needs a warrant to search through someone’s property legally. If this step is skipped or done incorrectly, law enforcement cannot arrest you for anything they find.
- Lack of knowledge or intent: If applicable, Rossen Law Firm attorneys can argue that our client demonstrated a lack of knowledge and awareness that they were involved in a drug conspiracy.
- Entrapment: If the defense can show that government agents induced the accused to commit the crime and that the accused was not predisposed to commit such a crime, it may be a valid defense. However, this is often difficult to prove and requires very specific circumstances in your case.
- The individual abandoned the conspiracy: Abandonment serves as a defense to a drug conspiracy charge if the accused withdrew from the conspiracy before the crime was committed. In other words, if one of the co-conspirators renounces the agreement that formed the conspiracy, the overall conspiracy may continue with the remaining members, but the accused who withdrew is no longer accountable for any subsequent crimes committed by the others.
The safety valve provision of the federal sentencing statutes requires a district court to ignore any statutory mandatory minimum and instead follow the Sentencing Guidelines if a defendant was convicted of certain nonviolent drug crimes and can meet the five sets of criteria.
- The defendant has limited to no criminal history
- The defendant did not possess a firearm
- The defendant did not play an aggravated role in the offense
- The defendant truthfully disclosed all their activity and activity in any organization to law enforcement
- The defendant has no additional points under the Sentencing Guidelines
The criminal history point disqualification refers to the defendant’s prior criminal record. Section 3553(f)(1) disqualifies only those with a prior 2-point violent offense, more than 4 criminal history points, and a prior 3-point offense. The Sentencing Guidelines assign criminal history points based on a defendant’s criminal record. Prior imprisonment or juvenile detention sentences of less than 60 days are assigned a single criminal history point.
A few convictions do not count towards criminal history, including the following:
- Stale convictions
- 15-year-old, three-point convictions
- 10-year-old, one or two-point convictions
- 5-year-old, one or two-point juvenile adjudications
- Summary court-martial convictions
- Foreign convictions
- Tribal convictions
- Expunged, reversed, vacated, or invalidated convictions
- Certain petty offenses or minor misdemeanors:
- Hunting and fishing violations and juvenile truancy
- Gambling, prostitution, and the like, if the offender was sentenced no more severely than to imprisonment for 30 days or less or to probation for less than a year
Moreover, a defendant is more likely to be disqualified under Section 3553(f)(3) if a fellow conspirator seriously injures a victim than would be the case under Section 3553(f)(2) if the conspirator merely carries a firearm.
Under the corresponding sentencing guideline, a defendant is an “organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines” if he “receives an adjustment for an aggravated role under U.S.S.G. §3B1.1 (Aggravating Role).” Such an adjustment is warranted if the government establishes that the defendant exercised control over one of the other participants in the offense or the organization conducting the criminal activity.
Section 3553(f)(5) requires full disclosure on the part of the accused. As in the case of the other prerequisites, the accused bears the burden of establishing his qualification for safety valve relief. The requirement extends to information concerning the crime of conviction and other crimes that “were part of the same course of conduct or a common scheme or plan,” including uncharged related conduct. The court, not the government, must determine whether the defendant has carried his burden based on specifics in the record rather than mere speculation or conjecture.
It is important to note that the guidelines as it relates to drug cases are going to change in November 2023. During the sentencing phase, Rossen Law Firm has been advocating for judges to apply the upcoming November 2023 Sentencing Guidelines as opposed to the 2021 guidelines.
FEDERAL DRUG TRAFFICKING ATTORNEYS IN SOUTH FLORIDA
The Rossen Law Firm excels at litigating drug trafficking and conspiracy charges. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge, strong backgrounds, and decades of experience successfully defending these cases in federal court. Our clients are our top priority, and we are dedicated to achieving their best outcomes. We take great pride in genuinely comprehending our clients’ needs and actively listening to their stories. Doing so allows us to develop the best defense strategies customized to their circumstances.
If you or a family member are facing drug conspiracy charges, you deserve the best care to achieve your best future. Contact The Rossen Law Firm today to schedule a free strategy session and learn how we can help you.