Federal Drug Crimes and Penalties
Violating federal law can lead to significant prison sentences
on April 5, 2022
Updated on April 6, 2022
Violating controlled substance laws can lead to significant penalties at state and federal levels. In the United States, you can be charged for violating both state and federal law. This means that you can be charged for a crime like possession of a controlled substance by both state and federal governments. Controlled substances are drugs that the federal and state governments have deemed to pose a risk of addiction or harm when abused or misused.
Violating federal drug laws can lead to severe penalties, including harsh prison sentences. That’s because federal courts impose mandatory minimum sentences for particular violations. Read about federal drug laws and the prison sentences imposed on some drug convictions.
What You Need To Know
- You can be charged for both state and federal drug offenses in the United States.
- Common federal drug charges include simple possession of a controlled substance, drug trafficking, and drug conspiracy.
- Federal sentencing carries mandatory minimum prison sentencing guidelines resulting in severe prison terms.
- Title 21 U.S.C. “The Controlled Substances Act” categorizes controlled substances into “schedules” based on their likelihood of abuse and harm posed.
A Brief Overview of Common Federal Drug Crimes & Penalties
There are various ways where drug crimes can be charged as federal offenses. For example, if the crimes were committed on government property or large amounts of controlled substances crossed state lines. Here are some of the more common federally charged drug offenses and their resulting penalties:
- Possession of a Controlled Substance: Simple possession of a controlled substance typically involves a small amount of illegal substances. It is uncommon for this crime to lead to serious jail time, though if convicted, you could pay fines and be subject to forfeiture of your property (a car used to house drugs, for example). If you possess a high quantity of illegal drugs, or if the drugs are discovered on government property, you could be charged with a federal crime.
- Drug Trafficking: The difference between simple possession and federal drug possession can often come down to the amount of controlled substances the defendant allegedly had when they were detained by law enforcement. Federal sentencing is often much harsher than punishment imposed for state crimes. A first offense for this crime can lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. A second offense can invoke a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. A third offense can sometimes result in a mandatory life sentence.
- Drug Conspiracy: Cases that involve multiple parties agreeing to violate federal drug law are often charged as drug conspiracies. In a drug conspiracy case, a defendant can be charged for discussing the crime, even if they do not participate in the underlying offense. Drug conspiracy federal sentencing can vary depending on what underlying drug crime was allegedly committed by the defendants. Still, mandatory minimum sentencing can apply.
What Are Federal Drug Categories?
The government regulates federal drug laws through the Controlled Substances Act (C.S.A.). The act takes all controlled substances previously regulated under federal law and places them into five distinct categories called “schedules.” These schedules are ranked I-V based on their usage, safety and potential for abuse. Schedule I substances are deemed to have the highest potential for abuse and pose the highest risks to the general public. Here is a breakdown of each schedule:
- Schedule I: These are the drugs that the federal government has determined have the highest potential for misuse and abuse. Included in this schedule are marijuana, heroin and LSD.
- Schedule II: These are drugs that have the potential to be abused but also have commonly-accepted medical uses. This classification includes drugs such as fentanyl, codeine, morphine and methamphetamines.
- Schedule III: These drugs have commonly accepted medical uses and are found to be less potentially harmful and addicting than Schedule II drugs. This category includes hydrocodone, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
- Schedule IV: These are drugs that have been found to have a relatively low potential for abuse or misuse. This class includes valium, Ambien and Xanax.
- Schedule V: This schedule is where you will find drugs with the least chance of being abused. Common Schedule V drugs include narcotics with small amounts of opioids such as Robitussin.
Finding the Right Drug Charge Attorney
You must seek the right attorney from the outset—someone with experienced legal know-how in defending drug charges. The right attorney will look at the facts of your case and determine the best course of action. Your attorney will present you with their informed legal advice as they work to resolve your matter. Visit the Super Lawyers directory and search for a Drug & Alcohol Violations attorney in or around your local area.
Should I Speak With a Drug Lawyer?
It is always good to speak with an experienced attorney when you’re facing legal repercussions for a drug charge. An experienced criminal defense lawyer versed in drug charges can look at the facts of your case and provide you with invaluable legal advice. Your defense attorney can assist you in dealing with the prosecution and any potential plea agreements to be negotiated.
A skillful drug charge defense attorney knows the ins and outs of the legal process, providing you essential peace of mind during a difficult time in your life.
To learn more about this area of law, see our overview on drug and alcohol violations.