Drug Conspiracy Charges

Drug conspiracy defense lawyers who get great results.

A drug conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit a drug crime. A federal drug conspiracy is an agreement to violate the federal drug laws.

To prove that a person is guilty of drug conspiracy charges, the government must have sufficient evidence of two things: (1) there was an agreement between two or more people to violate a federal drug law; and (2) each alleged conspirator knew of the unlawful agreement and joined in it.

Types of Drug Conspiracy Charges

There are four types of drug crimes under 21 U.S.C. § 841 and 21 U.S.C. § 952:

  1. Manufacturing a controlled substance – “Manufacturing” can include any action involved in the production, processing, preparation, or extraction of a controlled substance, from growing a marijuana plant to pressing pills.
  2. Distributing a controlled substance – This means exactly what it sounds like, delivering a drug to someone, even if there is no money involved.
  3. Possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute it – Possessing an illegal drug is a separate, and less severe, crime than manufacturing or distribution. However, if the government can prove a person had an intent to distribute the drugs in their possession, the penalties are the same as if they actually distributed them. The government can use prior drug sales, possession of equipment such as scales and baggies, and even the amount of drugs in someone’s possession as evidence of an intent to distribute. If a person is caught with five pounds of marijuana, for example, the government can charge them with having an intent to distribute marijuana.
  4. Importing a controlled substance – Like distribution, this is a straightforward crime involving the importation of illegal drugs into the U.S., usually by deceiving U.S. Customs or Border Patrol.

What are the penalties for a drug conspiracy charge?

The sentence for participating in a drug conspiracy depends on the type and quantity of drugs involved in the offense.

For marijuana, if there is no quantity of marijuana alleged, there is no mandatory minimum sentence, while the maximum sentence is 20 years. If there are 100 kilograms or more of a substance containing marijuana, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 40 years. If there are 1000 or more kilograms of a substance containing marijuana, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

For cocaine and “crack” cocaine, if there is no quantity of cocaine or crack cocaine specified, there is no mandatory minimum sentence, while the maximum sentence is 20 years. If there are 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine or 28 grams or more of a substance containing crack cocaine, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 40 years. If there are 5 or more kilograms of a substance containing cocaine or 280 grams or more of a substance containing crack cocaine, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

For methamphetamine, if there is no quantity of methamphetamine specified, there is no mandatory minimum sentence, while the maximum sentence is 20 years. If there are 5 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 40 years. If there are 50 or more grams of a substance containing methamphetamine, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

For heroin, if there is no quantity of heroin specified, there is no mandatory minimum sentence, while the maximum sentence is 20 years. If there are 100 grams or more of a substance containing heroin, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 40 years. If there is 1 or more kilograms of a substance containing heroin, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Law enforcement is also now prosecuting drug conspiracies involving opioids, especially fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. A controlled substance “analogue” is a chemical compound that is “substantially similar” to a controlled substance, both in chemical structure and in the effects it produces when consumed.

While fentanyl is a Schedule II drug, a fentanyl analogue is classified under Schedule I. There are no mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogues.

Possible Enhancements in Drug Conspiracy Cases

It’s important to be familiar with laws that “enhance” the sentences for certain drug offenses. These laws dramatically increase the mandatory minimum sentences in drug conspiracy offenses.

There are two ways that the government can apply these enhancements:

  1. If an individual dies or is seriously injured as a result of using the controlled substance involved in the drug conspiracy. This enhancement can only be applied if the government proves that the deceased individual would not have died or been injured but for the fact that they consumed the controlled substance involved in the offense.
  2. If the person being charged with a drug crime has one or more prior felony convictions for drug offenses. Under 21 U.S.C. § 851, the government must give notice to the court and the defendant that it is seeking this enhancement, and it must identify the particular prior convictions it is relying upon.

We have won “not guilty” verdicts in several federal drug conspiracy cases

Page Pate is nationally recognized as one of the best federal drug conspiracy defense attorneys in the country. He has over twenty years of success in defending people charged in federal drug conspiracy cases in courts across the United States.

Our firm is based in Atlanta but people from all over the country hire us when they need a law firm with special expertise in federal drug conspiracy laws, and a track record of winning difficult federal drug cases at trial. Because the criminal laws and rules of evidence are basically the same in all federal courts, our firm has been able to win federal criminal trials regardless of where the case is pending.

In this video, Page Pate discusses federal drug conspiracy laws and some defenses he has used to win these cases at trial.

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Read about our firm’s success in federal criminal cases.

To learn what happens in a federal criminal case, watch our federal crimes video.

If you want to know how to get the lowest possible sentence in federal court, watch our video on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Defenses to a Drug Conspiracy Charge

There are six basic defenses to drug conspiracy crimes:

  1. There was no agreement – This is a straightforward defense that asserts the government cannot prove the existence of a conspiracy. No agreement exists, for example, where the individuals involved do not share a common goal and are not working together. Similarly, there may be an agreement between multiple people to accomplish something, but if the objective is not illegal, the agreement is not a conspiracy.
  2. The person charged did not intend to join the agreement –  Like the defense that there was no agreement, this defense attacks the government’s case as lacking evidence. For there to be a conspiracy, one must intentionally join the conspiracy. This means taking an “overt action” to participate in the conspiracy. Jim and Bob may jokingly agree to rob a bank, and Bob may go out the next day and actually do it, but Jim is not guilty of conspiracy to rob a bank if Jim believed Bob was joking and he didn’t take any steps towards helping him rob that bank, such as renting a getaway car.
  3. The person charged was involved in a different conspiracy – This may sound counterintuitive, but a person has a valid defense if the conspiracy they are involved in is not the conspiracy they were charged with. The government may accuse a person of distributing heroin from their house, but if they were actually distributing marijuana, that’s a valid defense to the government’s accusations.
  4. The person charged withdrew from the conspiracy – Withdrawing from a conspiracy is a defense to a conspiracy, but it’s not enough to simply throw one’s hands up and say: “I quit.” In order to succeed with a withdrawal defense, a person has to have been pro-active in withdrawing from the conspiracy. This means showing that they took an affirmative action to stop participating in the conspiracy, that they informed your co-conspirators of their withdrawal, and that they withdrew before the conspiracy was complete. Sometimes, it also means a person withdrawing has to take steps to prevent the conspiracy from accomplishing its criminal objective, such as by notifying law enforcement.
  5. The person charged was entrapped by law enforcement – While this is a difficult defense to succeed on, it can be powerful when used correctly. Entrapment occurs when law enforcement essentially “traps” a person by convincing them to commit a crime they ordinarily wouldn’t have committed. The key to an entrapment defense is to show that the person wouldn’t have committed the crime but for the government’s actions to entice them. It’s not entrapment just because an undercover agent or government informant created an opportunity for a person to sell him drugs, but if they threaten that person, harass them, or pressure them to sell illegal drugs, that may be entrapment. Entrapment is similar to duress, which is a defense one can use if they were physically threatened to do something illegal.
  6. There was an illegal search or interrogation – The U.S. Constitution protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means law enforcement generally has to have a valid search warrant before wiretapping a person’s phone, searching their house for drugs, or pulling them over to search their car. This also means law enforcement has to read you your Miranda rights if you are arrested, including your right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. If the person charged can prove that the warrant for a wiretap or search of their house is not supported by probable cause or that law enforcement conducted a traffic stop without having any reasonable suspicion that that person committed a crime, they can ask a court to suppress evidence that was seized by law enforcement, meaning the government cannot use it against them in their case. In drug cases, that usually means the government cannot introduce the drugs themselves as evidence, likely killing their case. Similarly, if a person can prove law enforcement did not advise them of their right to remain silent, that person can have any self-incriminating statements they made suppressed. It is also always a good idea to determine whether any search that led to the discovery of drugs, currency or other evidence was legal. If evidence was discovered in a vehicle, the attorney will have to determine if the officer who stopped the vehicle had a sufficient reason to do so, or if voluntary consent was given by the person who had possession of the vehicle. If drugs were discovered in a home, the attorney will have to verify that the search was based upon a valid search warrant or other probable cause or consent. If the police violated a person’s rights, a judge may be required to suppress any evidence that was seized.

There are several other potential defenses available to a person accused of a drug conspiracy or another federal drug crime. In some cases, an affirmative defense like entrapment or duress may be available and successful if diligently pursued. A good lawyer will also consider whether other affirmative defenses may apply, depending on the specific facts of the case.

If you have been charged with a federal drug crime such as conspiracy, you need the assistance of an experienced federal criminal lawyer who will defend your legal rights. For many years, our firm has successfully represented clients charged with federal drug conspiracy and related offenses. We have won several federal drug trials and have successfully resolved others with very favorable pretrial rulings and plea agreements.

Forfeiture and Seizure of Property in Drug Conspiracy Cases

Being charged with a federal drug crime may result in the seizure and forfeiture of property, even if the person is never actually convicted of any offense. Any property that the government can show came from a drug-related crime will be forfeited. In addition, any property which was used or intended to be used to commit or facilitate such a crime will be forfeited. A person convicted of engaging in a criminal enterprise will also forfeit any interest or rights in the continuing criminal enterprise.

Under 21 U.S.C. § 853, the government can seize and keep any property and money in a person’s possession that was “obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of” a drug offense or any property used “to facilitate the commission of” such an offense. There is a lower “burden of proof” in forfeiture cases than required for a criminal conviction, meaning the government doesn’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person obtained the property from a criminal source or that they used the property in connection with their alleged crimes.

Of course, there are ways to contest a forfeiture or seizure of property. Our firm has won criminal forfeiture trials, and also negotiated the return of our client’s property and currency that had been seized by federal law enforcement.

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