What Constitutes a Federal Drug Conspiracy?

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Drug conspiracy laws at the federal level are extremely broad-reaching and carry strong penalties. This area of law dates back to the War Between the States, when Congress sought to protect the country against harm by enacting conspiracy laws that even today remain basically unchanged. The basic thought behind conspiracy regulations is that a group of people presents a far greater threat than would a single person. Many cases that could be prosecuted at the state level are upgraded to a federal crime when possible, because the federal laws are more inclusive and punitive. Specific provisions regulate controlled substances under drug conspiracy laws.

Federal Charges for Drug Conspiracy

In the United States, you face a federal crime if you possess, distribute or traffic in controlled substances. The substances of concern include commonly used illegal narcotics, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and LSD. At the federal level of prosecution, most cases involve large amounts of drugs, not simple possession. The charges levied for violation of federal drug laws are very harsh, including mandatory minimum sentencing of 10 years or more. The Statute of Limitations that applies to drug conspiracy charges is five years from the alleged event or when the alleged activity ceases for any number of reasons.

Drug conspiracy laws allow the government to obtain convictions against multiple people who are in agreement to acquire, make, possess or sell those prohibited and illegal substances. Many state drug offenses are boosted into federal courts for prosecution. Persons who are caught conducting their illegal drug deals on federal property also can be charged at the federal level. These drug conspiracy provisions are useful when the government needs to get a conviction against anyone who is a part of the group who agreed to commit this crime, whether they actually participated in the act or not.

  • Overview – Drug Conspiracy is part of the United States Code, 21 U.S.C. § 846. This provision states that it is illegal for anyone to commit a conspiracy for the manufacture, distribution or possession with intent to distribute illegal, controlled substances. This provision is included under a general federal conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371, which makes participation in a conspiracy to violate federal laws a crime.
  • Who Can Be Charged? – Anyone who has any type of agreement/knowledge connection to others who have the intent to commit drug law violations, whether or not the accused ever participated in the act, can be charged. When two or more people agree to possess, sell, manufacture or distribute illegal substances, each person can be charged, even if one of them is unaware of the activity. Innocent people who unknowingly participate in drug conspiracies also may be charged. For example, if you loan your vehicle to someone who then uses it to deliver drugs and is caught, you may be considered a participant.
  • What Must Government Prove? – Establishing proof of conspiracy charges rests primarily upon the Pinkerton vs. U.S. rule. That rule came from a case in which it was determined that a conspirator is liable for any and all acts that are committed by co-conspirators during the time of the conspiracy. Regulations exist for determining the start and termination of a conspiracy. It only takes commitment of an act by one conspirator to allow conviction of all defendants, even if that act was not a crime. Even the intent is sufficient to move to prosecution for conspiracy. The problem here is that innocent people can become wrapped into drug conspiracy charges. The main requirement of proof of conspiracy is that two or more people agree to commit a crime that violates drug laws.
  • Broad Reach of Drug Conspiracy Accusations – The broad reach of conspiracy laws can allow charges and convictions to be levied upon persons who did not even know each other. The prosecution also can use the conspiracy statute to charge several people with the same crime. In some cases, people can even be charged twice for the same charge without double jeopardy protection. Most federal drug indictments also include a drug conspiracy count. People who merely discussed committing a crime can be charged even if they did not participate in the action.
  • Beyond Reasonable Doubt – The government must have firm evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an agreement was made between two or more people to break federal drug laws. In addition, the government must prove that those charged knew about the agreement and that they voluntarily joined in. The rock solid foundation for proving the case is proving that an agreement did take place, that intent was present. There does not need to be a written or oral agreement, just a common understanding. This sometimes is inferred from facts of the case.

Penalties for Drug Conspiracy

Federal penalties for drug conspiracy are stiff, but similar to penalties for other white collar conspiracy offenses. In Section 371, these felony conspiracies can bring fines up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for organizations) along with prison terms up to five years’ duration. Penalties can be added to other punishments levied for additional crimes committed in conjunction with the drug offenses.

Penalties may be affected by consideration of additional factors, such as age, background, prior criminal history and other elements. Some people convicted on drug conspiracy charges will also be ordered to make restitution and be subject to forfeiture. If someone was harmed during the commission of the crime, it can affect how severe a penalty will be, as will the impact of using weapons in a crime.

Drug Conspiracy Defense

If you are accused of drug conspiracy charges, get help immediately from an experienced criminal defense attorney. The scope of conspiracy charges is very broad, and many elements must be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. If it cannot be proven that you participated in a conspiracy voluntarily, the government cannot convict. There are several ways to defend against charges, and your attorney will investigate your case thoroughly to uncover any possible evidence to use to reduce or eliminate charges on your behalf.

Many people are dragged into drug conspiracy charges just because they have a passing contact with others who are in agreement about commission of a drug offense. Some who are accused in a conspiracy may not even know others in that group. The element of “agreement” or “knowledge of” a potential drug offense is one area where criminal defense attorneys often find a way to get charges dropped.

A frequently used line of defense in this type of case focuses on how the act was discovered. Was a search and seizure by police done legally? Was the defendant stopped illegally, and then the officer found drugs, but did not have sufficient cause to stop the defendant in the first place? Was a search warrant required to enter and search a premise, but there was no probable cause, and no warrant ever issued? Violation of the defendant’s rights can mean a judge must suppress any evidence that was seized in that illegal search.

Another area of defense lies in the area of witness testimony and how the government obtained it and from whom. Some informants have criminal records and are not trustworthy. Other informants may lie just to reduce their own harsh penalties.

Criminal Defense Attorney

When your future and freedom are at stake, it is essential to obtain the best possible criminal defense attorney to fight for you and your rights. An experienced drug conspiracy lawyer will have the targeted knowledge and skills you need to present a solid defense argument. We understand how the court system and prosecutors operate and how to present your case effectively.

Call today to arrange for an initial consultation to discuss your case in confidence with our experienced criminal defense attorney. Act quickly to ensure all your rights are protected.


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