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Federal drug trafficking sentences are extremely harsh

A conviction for drug trafficking can bring serious consequences in Iowa. For those convicted in federal court, the consequences can be particularly harsh. The severity of a federal drug trafficking sentence will depend largely on the amount and type of drug involved. If violence is alleged or if the defendant has any prior convictions, the penalties will be increased.

The sentences for cocaine trafficking illustrate the harshness of federal drug penalties. A first offense conviction for trafficking 500 to 4,999 grams of powdered cocaine, or 28 to 279 grams of crack, will result in a minimum prison sentence of five years and a maximum of 40 years. If a first offense for the same amount involves death or serious injury the minimum sentence goes up to 20 years and the maximum to life. A second offense involving the same quantity carries a 10-year minimum and a maximum life sentence for a nonviolent offense. A second offense involving death or serious injury will trigger a mandatory life sentence.

If the quantity of cocaine involved is five kilograms or more of powder or 280 grams or more of crack, the minimum sentence for a first offense trafficking conviction goes from five years to 10 years, and the maximum goes from 40 years to life, The sentence for a second offense will increase the minimum to 20 years and the maximum to life. If the defendant has two or more previous convictions or death or serious injury are involved, the mandatory sentence is life in prison.

Fortunately, it is possible to fight federal drug trafficking charges in court, and defenses are available. For example, many federal drug prosecutions are based on the testimony of informants. Some of these informants are paid by the authorities. Others are people who are themselves facing criminal charges and are testifying in exchange for leniency in their own cases. Attacking the credibility of these witnesses at trial can often result in an acquittal.

Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, "Federal Trafficking Penalties," accessed July 24, 2016

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