What Is Federal Narcotics Possession?
There are a number of federal crimes that cover the illegal possession of narcotics, ranging in severity from federal misdemeanors to very serious felonies. Being charged under any of them can be extremely intimidating, and if you find yourself in that position, you should seek the help of a qualified federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
There are many different drug-related federal criminal laws. What follows is a summary of some of the commonly-charged federal crimes involving narcotics.
Simple Possession of Narcotics and other Controlled Substances
A defendant who “knowingly or intentionally possesses” any amount of “a controlled substance” can be convicted of “simple possession” under federal law. A “controlled substance” is a special term in federal law. It refers to a long list of drugs and substances – including those commonly known as “narcotics” – that the federal government has determined are not safe to use. Some of these are considered unsafe to use under any circumstances, while others may be used with medical supervision.
Manufacturing and Distribution of Narcotics and Other Controlled Substances
It is relatively unusual for the federal government to prosecute a defendant based on possession of narcotics alone. There aren't nearly as many federal prosecutors as there are prosecutors at the state and city level, and because all states, including New Jersey, have extensive laws regulating narcotics use and possession, federal prosecutors tend to focus on the more serious crimes of manufacturing and distribution.
The federal statute that criminalizes larger-scale drug manufacturing and distribution applies to defendants who “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.” The severity of the penalty for violating this statute depends on two main things: the type and the quantity of the controlled substances involved.
For example, a conviction for possession with the intent to distribute 100 grams of heroin results in a mandatory sentence of 5 years and a potential maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. For 1 kilogram of heroin, the mandatory sentence increases to 10 years, and the maximum increases to life in prison.
Importing or Exporting Narcotics and Other Controlled Substances
The statute prohibiting the import or export of controlled substances operates much in the same way as the one prohibiting their manufacturing and distribution. In addition to the same mandatory minimum and potential maximum prison terms, the law also provides for fines of up to $2 million for the import or export of lesser quantities and up to $5 million for larger amounts.
Attempt or Conspiracy to Manufacture, Distribute, Import, or Export
Federal law provides the same penalties for a failed attempt to manufacture, distribute, import, or export narcotics and other controlled substances as it does for successfully committing the crime. In addition, conspiring with one or more other individuals to manufacture, distribute, import, or export controlled substances will also result in the same penalties as if the crime had been committed.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Federal Narcotics Violations?
A defendant convicted of Simple Possession faces up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1000. In addition, the defendant may be required to repay the “reasonable costs of the investigation and prosecution of the offense.” If the defendant has previously been convicted under any drug or narcotics law, whether federal or state, both the prison term and the fine can be increased to up to 3 years and up to $5000.
As noted above, a defendant convicted of manufacturing, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance can be sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences of 5 or 10 years, depending on the amount and type of drug involved, with maximum sentences of 40 years or life in prison. These severe penalties can increase further if the defendant has one or more prior felony drug-related convictions, if the defendant distributed the drugs to individuals under the age of 21, and if the defendant distributed near schools, playgrounds, youth centers, and public housing. Finally, if someone dies as a result of using a drug that the defendant is convicted of manufacturing or distributing, the mandatory minimum penalty is increased to 20 years in prison.
In addition to fines and prison sentences, the government has the power to seize a defendant's property and money that was obtained in the course of committing the crime or that was used in connection with committing it.
What Are Some Examples of Defenses to Federal Narcotics Possession?
Because all of these crimes require the government to introduce evidence of the underlying narcotics or other controlled substances involved, one defense is that the drugs were seized in violation of the Constitution or federal law. In conspiracy cases, common defenses include that the defendant did not agree to participate in the planned illegal activity or that no act took place in furtherance of the conspiracy. And sometimes, undercover federal agents or informants working with them entrapped the defendant, causing the defendant to commit a crime that otherwise would not have been committed.
In What Court Will Your Case Be Heard?
If you are charged with a violation of federal narcotics laws in New Jersey, your case will be tried in a federal court located in the state. There are three federal courthouses in New Jersey, one each in Camden, Newark, and Trenton. If you lose your case at the district court level, you can file an appeal, which is heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals located in Philadelphia. Appeals from this court can be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States; however, the Supreme Court only hears a particular criminal appeal if it chooses to do so.
How Hiring an Attorney With Experience Can Help
Federal narcotics charges are extremely serious ones. If you learn you are under investigation by the federal government for violating federal drug law, you should seek the advice of a qualified federal criminal defense attorney immediately. There are often opportunities during the investigation process, before a charge is brought, to negotiate with the government for a much better outcome than is possible once you have been indicted. In any case, federal courts operate under a specific set of rules and regulations that can be confusing and overwhelming to the average person, and there are many opportunities for someone who lacks the experience to make serious mistakes that can harm their case.
You Need an Experienced and Dedicated Attorney to Defend Against Federal Narcotics Charges
If you have been charged with violating any federal narcotics law, you need a strong and effective attorney to help you with your defense. With minimum mandatory prison sentences for many crimes and maximum sentences of up to life in prison, a conviction can be devastating to you and your loved ones. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and dedication you need to provide you with the best defense possible to these charges. He and his team at the Lento Law Firm know how to mount an aggressive, effective defense to federal narcotics charges. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or use our contact form today. You do not want to face these charges alone, and with the Lento Law Firm on your side, you won't have to.