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Can prison time be avoided in a federal drug crimes case?

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2022 | Criminal Law

Federal drug offenses have unique circumstances in comparison with other violations. Penalties for federal crimes tend to be more severe than those that state courts levy.

When an individual runs afoul of the law in a federal drug case, the person rightly wonders if it is possible to avoid stringent penalties, such as prison time.

Types of charges

Federal drug laws fall under Title 21 of the United States Code, which categorizes controlled substances into five schedules. The Drug Enforcement Agency assigns schedules based on the potential for addiction and how dangerous the narcotic is.

Penalties and charges depend on the drug schedule and the particular offense the prosecution is trying. Violations include drug cultivation, manufacturing, importation, possession, smuggling, trafficking and conspiracy.

Sentencing guidelines

Generally, a defendant in a federal drug case faces a mandatory sentence. Avoiding prison time altogether tends to be extremely difficult and usually comes down to beating the charges.

A defendant may file a motion to drop the charges on various grounds, such as a lack of evidence. If law enforcement violated the defendant’s civil rights, a judge might dismiss evidence that police obtained through unlawful means, which might move prosecutors to drop the case.

If a defendant cannot convince a judge or prosecutors to dismiss a case, a plea bargain may lead to reduced charges. Federal Sentencing Guidelines allow judges to deviate from mandatory minimums if a defendant cooperates with the government, has a limited criminal history and is not a leader in the violation. Also, the incident cannot involve violence, injuries, threats or fatalities.

Avoiding prison time in a federal case can be challenging. Defendants face a robust prosecutorial system with a commitment to making an example of offenders, so an equally strong defense is often the only way to minimize penalties.


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