Eastern Iowa Criminal Defense Attorneys

What Are the Punishments for Federal Drug Trafficking?

In general, drug trafficking involves selling or transporting (controlled substances). The federal law concerning the offense – 21 U.S.C. § 841 – defines it as manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled or counterfeit substance.

More specifically, any of the following conduct involving drugs could be prosecuted as a trafficking crime:

  • Producing,
  • Preparing,
  • Packaging,
  • Delivering, or
  • Administering to an end-user

Drug trafficking is a serious offense, as it puts the health and safety of others at risk and contributes to other crimes, such as theft or weapons offenses. Because of this, the government imposes strict penalties upon anyone convicted. In some cases, mandatory minimums and enhanced penalties apply.

The Conviction Penalties for Drug Trafficking

Not all controlled substances are the same. Some are considered more serious than others. The penalties someone can face for drug trafficking depend on the type and amount of the substance involved – with offenses involving more dangerous drugs receiving harsher punishments.

Below are a few of the possible penalties for a drug trafficking conviction under federal law:

  • 10 years to life imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $10,000,000 for trafficking:
    • 1 kilogram or more of a mixture containing heroin
    • 5 kilograms or more of a mixture containing coca leaves or cocaine
    • 280 grams or more of a mixture with a cocaine base
    • 100 grams or more of PCP or 1 kilogram or more of a mixture containing PCP
    • 10 grams or more of a mixture containing LSD
    • 1,000 kilograms or more of a mixture containing marijuana or 1,000 or more marijuana plants
    • 50 grams or more of methamphetamine or 500 grams or more of a mixture containing methamphetamine
  • 5 to 40 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum of $5,000,000 in fines for trafficking in:
    • 100 grams or more of a mixture containing heroin
    • 500 grams or more of a mixture containing coca leaves or cocaine
    • 28 grams or more of a mixture with a cocaine base
    • 10 grams or more of PCP or 100 grams or more of a mixture containing PCP
    • 1 gram or more of a mixture with LSD
    • 100 grams or more of a mixture containing marijuana
    • 5 grams or more of methamphetamine or 50 grams or more of a mixture containing methamphetamine
  • Up to 20 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum of $1,000,000 in fines for trafficking in:
    • Schedule I or II controlled substance
    • Gamma hydroxybutyric acid
  • Up to 10 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum of $500,000 in fines for trafficking in:
    • Schedule III controlled substances
  • Up to 5 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum of $250,000 in fines for trafficking in:
    • 50 kilograms or more of marijuana
    • Schedule IV controlled substances
  • Up to 1 year of imprisonment and/or a maximum of $100,000 in fines for trafficking in:
    • Schedule V controlled substances

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), in 2020, drug offenses were the second most committed federal crimes, with 16,829 cases reported and a majority of them involving drug trafficking. Of those, 7,537 involved methamphetamine, which received the longest prison sentences – an average of 95 months – and 85% of them carrying mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment.

Additional Prison Sentences for Associated Crimes

As mentioned earlier, drug offenses are often associated with other crimes, such as weapons offenses. The USSC reported that nearly 25% of drug trafficking crimes involved the use of a weapon. Under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)), when someone has or uses a weapon during a drug trafficking offense, they can face enhanced penalties.

Additional penalties that may be imposed include the following:

  • Not less than a 5-year prison sentence when the alleged offender possessed a firearm
  • Not less than a 7-years prison sentence when the alleged offender brandished a firearm
  • Not less than a 10-year prison sentence when the alleged offender discharged a firearm or had a short-barreled rifled, short-barreled shotgun, or semiautomatic weapon
  • Not less than a 30-year prison sentence when the alleged offender had a machine gun, firearm silencer, or firearm muffler

What Increases an Offense from Simple Possession to Drug Trafficking?

On the surface, some drug trafficking offenses can appear to be simple possession crimes. The alleged offender may merely have controlled substances on them but not necessarily be actively involved in transporting or selling them when law enforcement officials arrest them. So how does the government decide that it can pursue trafficking charges? Often, law enforcement officials will rely on other evidence to prove that the alleged offender was distributing or intended to distribute the drugs.

Some of these factors include:

  • The amount of the drug
  • The presence of baggies, containers, scales, or other instruments used to analyze, package, or produce drugs
  • The presence of large amounts of cash or sales ledgers
  • The testimony from individuals aware of the operation

Can You Beat a Drug Trafficking Charge?

It is possible to defend against drug trafficking charges. However, because the government aggressively pursues these cases, it is essential to have an experienced attorney providing counsel.

They can identify defenses that can be raised, such as:

  • Questioning the amount of drugs their client allegedly had
  • Challenging search and seizure violations
  • Asserting that their client was a victim of entrapment

The above are only a few examples of ways to fight back against drug trafficking accusations. It is important to note that every case is unique and the legal avenues to explore to seek a favorable outcome depend on the situation.

If you have been accused of drug trafficking in Iowa City or the surrounding areas, reach out to Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger by calling (319) 499-5524 or submitting an online contact form. We can provide the aggressive defense you need.