Appealing a Federal Drug Conviction
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Federal drug offenses can become complex because of their many distinguishing factors such as the category or “schedule” of the controlled substance in question, quantity of the controlled substance, extent to which a defendant is involved, and more. These factors along with others will determine the severity of a defendant’s sentencing as a result of his or her federal drug conviction. No matter the gravity of your federal drug offense, a federal criminal appeals lawyer can help lead you down the road toward justice.
Federal Drug Offense Overview: 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846, 952, 953, 963
Hiring the right attorney is paramount to a successful federal drug conviction appeal. The federal criminal appeals lawyers at our boutique firm have years of dedicated experience in federal drug conviction appeals involving the manufacture and distribution of a controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 841; attempt and conspiracy to manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute controlled substances under 21 U.S.C. § 846; importation of controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 952; exportation of controlled substances under 21 U.S.C. § 953; and attempt and conspiracy to import or export controlled substances under 21 U.S.C. § 963. Federal drug convictions should not be handled lightly. Consult with an expert federal criminal appeals attorney today and call 1-800-APPEALS.
Federal Drug Offense Sentencing Guidelines Overview: 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b) & 960(b)
The most important factors in determining a sentence for a federal drug offense are the quantity and type of the involved controlled substance. An outline for federal drug offense penalties can be found within 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b) and 960(b). Although the appropriate maximum and minimum penalties are based on the category and quantity of the involved controlled substance(s), a judge may increase the sentence under certain circumstances. For instance, if the offense involves serious bodily injury or death, under §§ 841(b) and 960(b), the minimum sentence imposed is 20 years with a maximum sentence of life in prison. If a person is convicted of a new federal drug offense and has previously been convicted of one or more felony drug convictions, under 21 U.S.C. § 851, the sentence may also increase significantly.
Understanding sentencing guidelines is critical if you wish to appeal your federal drug offense. Our federal criminal appeals attorneys can walk you through the entire process of appealing the sentence of your federal drug offense, so that you can rest assured your appeal is in the best possible hands.
Appealing Federal Drug Convictions: Offense Overview
Federal Drug Crimes and Charges
Federal drug statutes distinguish drug-related crimes, which determine the seriousness of the charges, and ultimately, the severity of the sentence. Types of federal drug crimes can be found under 21 U.S.C. § 841, 846, 952, 953, 963 and include:
- Drug trafficking: The severity of the charge increases with a drug trafficking offense. Drug trafficking includes manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to distribute.
- Drug manufacturing: Drug manufacturing is among the most serious federal drug-related offenses and involves the growth or production of illegal substances with the intent to distribute. Large quantities of illegal drug production are often involved in drug manufacturing charges.
- Drug conspiracy: The attempt to promote or facilitate the production, distribution or importation of illegal substances is classified as drug conspiracy. Prosecution is required to prove that the defendant was aware of the conspiracy.
- Protected location offense: Distribution of illegal drugs to persons under the age of 21 or in a school zone is considered a protected location offense.
Controlled Substance Act (CSA): Federal Drug “Schedules”
In an attempt to consolidate the numerous changes to federal drug laws over the last several decades, legislature enacted the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), which essentially distinguished federal drug charges by “schedule.” The purpose of these federal drug “schedules” is to distinguish drugs according to the expected danger they pose to public safety. The drugs classified in Schedule 1 are considered the least harmful, and the harmfulness of the drugs increase from there. Some examples of substances from each schedule are as follows:
- Schedule 1: Marijuana, Ecstasy, LSD, and Heroin
- Schedule 2: Cocaine and Morphine
- Schedule 3: Vicodin, Marinol, and Anabolic steroids
- Schedule 4: Xanax, Ambien, and Valium
- Schedule 5: Lyrica and cough suppressants
Federal Drug Convictions: Sentencing Guidelines and Enhanced Penalties
Prior Qualifying Convictions: 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b) & 960(b)
Sections § 841(b) and § 960(b) provide enhancement requirements based on the defendant’s criminal record prior to the new federal drug conviction. A previous conviction will increase a 5-40 year prison range to 10 years to life in prison and will increase a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence to a 20-year mandatory minimum. If there are two prior convictions, a 10-year mandatory minimum will increase to a mandatory life in prison.
Drug Trafficking and Firearms: 18 U.S.C. 924(c)
In an offense involving both drug trafficking and firearms, the imposed sentence can increase depending on the use or display of the involved firearm(s). When a defendant is in possession of a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking offense, the minimum imposed prison sentence is five years. If a firearm is brandished, or “waved,” the minimum sentenced increases to 7 years. Imprisonment can be no less than 10 years when a firearm is discharged during the course of a drug trafficking offense.
21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 960: Penalties Based on Quantity and Drug Schedule
The sentence for a defendant involved in a federal drug offense can vary widely, depending on the amount and type of drugs involved. Under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B) and 960(b)(2), a defendant may receive 5 to 40 years in prison when the alleged offense involves 100+ grams of heroin, 500+ grams of cocaine or 28+ grams of cocaine base, 100+ kilograms of marijuana, or 5+ grams of meth. An alleged offense involving 1+ gram of heroin, 5+ kilograms of cocaine, 280+ grams of cocaine base, 50+ grams of meth, or 1,000+ kilograms of marijuana can receive 10 years to life in prison pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A). For offenses involving lesser quantities of controlled substances, a statutory range of 0 to 20 years will apply. A sentence for a marijuana related offense involving less than 50 kilograms is no more than 5 years’ imprisonment.
Federal Drug Trafficking Convictions: Sentencing Guidelines Reduction of 2014
The United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to reduce sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenders in 2014. A few months later, the Commission voted to allow retroactive sentence reduction for defendants who were sentenced for drug trafficking offenses prior to the 2014 reduction. Beginning on November 1, 2014 courts were permitted to consider motions for retroactive sentence reductions.
Federal Criminal Appeals: Appealing a Federal Drug Conviction
If you have recently been handed a sobering sentence for a federal drug offense, our federal criminal appeals attorneys are here to help you find hope in this moment of despair. You do have options. Call our office today to discuss the possibility of a federal criminal appeal for your federal drug conviction. The sooner you call, the sooner you can get relief. Call 1-800-APPEALS.
If you feel the trial for your federal drug offense was unfair or that you received ineffective assistance of counsel, it is urgent that you contact a federal criminal appeals lawyer as soon as possible. We understand the dire and life-changing consequences that a federal drug conviction can carry. Legal errors are committed every day by trial courts, and sometimes these errors go as far as to infringe upon your constitutional rights. When errors are not harmless, they can have a negative and, often, life-altering effect on your case. Do not allow the mistakes of others stand between you and your rights.
The federal criminal appeal lawyers at our office are not only experienced appeals lawyers but are also expert writers and superior orators—two essential skills for winning a federal criminal appeal. After thoroughly analyzing the trial and sentencing record for legal errors, our federal criminal appeals lawyers craft an appellate brief that is submitted and filed to the Circuit Court of Appeals. If granted, we then present a persuasive and assertive argument before a panel of judges. When it comes to federal criminal appeals, our lawyers are the cream of the crop. You can rest assured that we are on your side and that we will walk you through every step of your federal drug conviction appeal.
To speak with one of our expert federal criminal appeals lawyers, dial 1-800-APPEALS.