Federal prosecutors have a powerful weapon for the undertaking of criminal cases against alleged drug dealers under 21 U.S. Code § 846 within The Controlled Substances Act. Also known as the Attempt and Conspiracy statute, it states that “[a]ny person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.” In short, if the government is able to prove that a defendant was part of a “conspiracy” to violate federal drug laws, said defendant could be held responsible for the acts of all other conspirators, not just their own personal conduct.

A federal drug conspiracy can simply be defined as an agreement between two or more people to knowingly violate a federal drug law. In order to be convicted, federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:

1)         That two or more persons conspired, or agreed, to violate a federal drug law.

2)         That the defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy.

One key item to remember regarding a conspiracy is that the government is not required to prove that a defendant knew everything about the conspiracy, everyone involved, or that he or she was a member of it from the beginning. The government must prove that a defendant knew the conspiracy’s main purpose and voluntarily joined it to advance its goals. A general analogy among lawyers would be to imagine a “conspiracy” as a spoked wheel. Any individual spoke of the wheel would have no interaction with the others; however, each spoke would still be considered a part of the wheel.

Mandatory Minimum Penalties

The penalties for the knowing or intentional manufacture and/or distribution of a controlled substance are listed under 21 U.S. Code § 841.   The severity of the punishment generally increases based upon the weight of the controlled substance the government can prove the defendant to be criminal responsible for.

Mandatory minimum penalty of incarceration of 5 years and not more than 40 years:

  • 100 grams or more of heroin
  • 500 grams or more of cocaine
  • 28 grams or more of crack
  • 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
  • 5 grams or more of methamphetamine

Mandatory minimum penalty of incarceration of 10 years up to life:

  • 1 kilogram or more of heroin
  • 5 kilograms or more of cocaine
  • 280 grams or more of crack
  • 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
  • 50 grams or more of methamphetamine

Possible Legal Defenses to a Federal Drug Conspiracy

Not Part of the Conspiracy

Proof that a defendant simply knows about a conspiracy or is associated with a group is not enough. The fact that a defendant knows about a conspiracy with approval, or simply fails to object to it, is not enough. In addition, proof that a defendant did something that happened to help a conspiracy, without more, does not necessarily make one a conspirator. The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of the conspiracy and voluntarily joined it for advancement of its illegal purpose.

Withdrawal from the Conspiracy

At trial, a jury can receive the instruction for the affirmative defense of withdrawal if there is evidence presented that the defendant withdrew from the conspiracy before any overt act was committed.

Suppression of Evidence

A motion to suppress evidence a legal action to have evidence against the defendant thrown out. If the illegal acts by the government resulted in obtaining certain evidence, known as “fruit of the poisonous tree”, the evidence could be deemed by the court to be inadmissible at trial.

If you’re facing federal drug conspiracy charges, contact an experienced trial attorney to discuss possible defenses for your case. Federal prosecutions can result in serious penalties and fines with many years, and possible decades, in prison. The Cave Law Firm, PLLC can review your case to provide the best legal approach for your individual circumstances. Call our office to set up a free consultation.

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