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Jan 05, 2021

What to Do When You’re Arrested for Federal Drug Charges

Getting arrested for a federal crime involving drugs can be nerve-wracking. You know that federal crimes are much more severe than state or local crimes, and you’re anxious about what kind of sentence you’ll be given. You’re wondering if you’ll have to spend years behind bars, away from your loved ones, and have to pay a huge fine. You hope that this arrest doesn’t ruin your life.

The truth of the matter is that being found guilty of a federal drug charge is a serious matter, and prison time and fines are a possibility. However, if you have the right defense on your side, you’ll have a much better chance of getting the charges dismissed or taking a plea deal. Then, you might have to serve less time and pay smaller fines, which could be a huge relief.

If you have been arrested for a federal drug charge, then it’s time to learn about what could happen in the future and how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you.

The Definition of a Federal Crime

A federal crime occurs when you break federal law. The United States Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate – create federal laws that cover national security and interstate commerce or other areas of the law where the federal government would have a say. For example, if a crime occurred on federal property, then the perpetrator could be charged with a federal crime.

When it comes to the investigation process for a federal crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), NSA (National Security Agency), Border Patrol, or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will get involved.

What Is a Federal Drug Crime?

A federal drug crime is a federal crime that involves drugs. Some federal drug crimes include:

  • Drug abuse violations
  • Drug trafficking
  • Exportation of drugs
  • Importation of drugs
  • Murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting

Drug abuse violations prohibit the distribution, production, and/or use of certain controlled substances and the equipment or devices that are used for preparing or utilizing them.

Drug trafficking involves selling, illegally importing, and transporting unlawful controlled substances like cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, and heroin, among other illegal drugs.

The exportation and importation of drugs involves illegally importing drugs into the U.S. or exporting them out of the U.S. This applies whether it’s an illegal drug that is going to be sold commercially or it’s your prescription drug. You must have authorization to import or export drugs and if you don’t, you could be charged with a crime.

Federal law would apply to a drug-related drive-by shooting if the shooting is done in furtherance of or to avoid detection of a major drug offense.

Could You Get Charged for a State Drug Crime Too?

Double jeopardy does not apply when it comes to federal and state law. In fact, if you commit certain crimes, you may be found guilty of breaking both state and federal law, and typically, the state sentencing will be added onto the federal sentencing.

One example would be if you trafficked illegal drugs across state lines but then sold them illegally in one state. The federal government could press charges and so could the state where you were selling the drugs.

What to Do if You’re Arrested for Federal Drug Charges

If you’re arrested for federal drug charges, you should exercise your Fifth Amendment right, which is the right to stay silent. Law enforcement may pressure you to reveal information to them, but you do not have to say anything.

Next, you should request to call a criminal defense attorney that has experience with federal drug crimes. Many criminal defense attorneys are open 24/7, so even if you’re arrested late at night, they will be open and will get back to you right away. They know that when you get arrested, it’s an emergency situation, which is why they are always on call.

One thing to note: When you call your attorney, do not confess to anything or give away too many details about what happened. Instead, let your attorney ask you questions, and then answer them as best as you can. On this phone call, your criminal defense attorney will advise you on what to do moving forward.

You can also call a family member or friend who can call up different lawyers for you and schedule consultations. Just remember that sometimes phone calls are recorded and you don’t want to say anything that could get you in trouble down the line. Instead, just call up your loved one and tell them you’ve been arrested for a drug crime and you need help from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Meeting With Your Criminal Defense Attorney

When you meet with your criminal defense attorney, be prepared to bring notes about your case. It’ll be extremely helpful if you write down what happened during your arrest, too, because if law enforcement or the prosecutor didn’t handle the process correctly, the charges could potentially get dismissed.

If you have witness statements, photographs, videos, or other evidence you could present to your attorney to prove your innocence, bring it along. For instance, maybe you took a video of a dinner party you were attending when you were supposedly on the street corner selling drugs, or your family member can provide an alibi that you were at home instead of trafficking drugs across state lines.

Your attorney will discuss the possibility of getting the charges dismissed or pursuing a plea bargain. With a plea bargain, you will plead guilty to a lesser charge so that some of your other charges will be dropped and/or so you won’t have to serve as long of a sentence or pay sky-high fines for your offense.

Another possibility is that your attorney will advise that you go to trial with your case instead of trying to get a plea bargain. This means they are confident that they can fight the charges. The burden is on the federal prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, which is a difficult task. This means they need to present evidence that convinces the judge or jury that you are indeed guilty. If they cannot successfully do that, then you may not have to go to prison or pay fines.

Felony Federal Drug Crimes and Misdemeanor Federal Drug Crimes

Federal drug crimes can be classified as felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are categorized as A, B, C, D, and E, where A is the worst offense. If you’re convicted of a Class A federal felony, you may face life imprisonment and you might have to pay a maximum of $250,000 in fines. A Class E federal felony can result in a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.

In terms of misdemeanors, they are categorized as A, B, and C, where A is the most severe and C is the least severe. If you’re convicted of a Class A federal misdemeanor, then you could go to prison for one year or less. You might have to pay a maximum fine of $100,000. When it comes to a Class C misdemeanor, you may have to go to prison for 30 days or less and pay a fine of up to $5,000.

What Happens If You’re Convicted of a Federal Drug Crime?

If you are convicted of a federal drug crime, then you will have to serve time in a federal prison and you may have to pay fines as well. Once you get out of prison, you will need to adhere to a period of supervised release.

You will also have a criminal record if you are convicted, which could affect you for the rest of your life. When you’re trying to find a place to live, a landlord could look at your criminal record and be too scared to rent to you. If you’re attempting to go to college, you will not be able to get federal student loans and grants. If you are applying for a job, an employer might be afraid to hire you. All in all, moving forward with your life could be very difficult, especially if you don’t have a support system of loved ones who could help you get back on your feet.

Remember that above all else, you’ll need to stay out of trouble. If you are caught committing another crime, it could mean more time in prison and hefty fines.

List of Illegal Drugs in the U.S.

The list of illegal drugs in the U.S. on a federal level include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • MDMA/ecstasy
  • GHB
  • Hallucinogens
  • Ketamine
  • Inhalants
  • Methamphetamines

Drug laws vary from state to state. For instance, in California, adults 21 and over can legally consume marijuana for recreational or medical purposes. However, like in all states, they can’t illegally sell it, use it if they’re underage, or transport it across state lines. It’s still an illegal drug under federal law.

Keep in mind that even if a drug is not listed as illegal under federal guidelines, it’s still illegal to sell your own prescription drugs. For instance, if you were prescribed Adderall for your ADHD and then you sold it to your classmates so they could study for a test, you could be charged with a crime.

Drug Trafficking Statistics

Drug trafficking is a huge problem in the United States. The abuse of illegal drugs results in $181 billion a year in healthcare, legal, and law enforcement costs, as well as a loss of productivity in the workplace in the U.S. Almost half a million people in the U.S. are incarcerated for charges related to drugs. Nonviolent drug convictions are common in the federal prison system. Additionally, law enforcement officers make more than 1 million drug possession arrests every year.

According to statistics from the United States Sentencing Commission, in 2016, there were over 19,000 cases of drug trafficking reported to the commission. Almost half of those accused of drug trafficking had little or no prior criminal history. Drug trafficking sentences were increased for offenders if they were in possession of a weapon or if they had a leadership or supervisory role in the offense. Sentences were decreased if they had a minor or minimal role in the offense or if they met the safety valve criteria in the sentencing guidelines.

Most drug trafficking offenses – 95.7% to be exact – were sentenced to imprisonment. The average sentencing was 66 months and varied depending on the type of drug involved in the offense. The average number of months for each drug was 87 for meth, 79 for crack, 70 for powder, 63 for heroin, 44 for oxy, and 26 for MJ.

Where Will You Be Sent to Prison?

If you live in California, you could be sent to one of the many federal facilities there throughout the state. They include:

  • United States Penitentiary, Atwater
  • Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin
  • Federal Correctional Institution, Mendota
  • Taft Correctional Institution
  • Metropolitan Detention Center, Los Angeles

Federal prisons are comprised of a mix of federal correctional institutions, federal prison camps, United States penitentiaries, federal correctional complexes, and administrative facilities.

In order to have the best chance at avoiding a long prison sentence, you should call a criminal defense attorney if you are arrested for federal drug charges.

Working With the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Silver Law Firm

If you are facing federal drug charges and need representation, Elliot Silver is here for you. He has over 25 years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer in Oakland and has assisted many clients with their federal crime charges.

If you’re ready to get in touch and learn about our services, then contact Silver Law Firm today to schedule a free and confidential consultation. You can email us at, fill out the form on our website, or call us anytime at (510) 995-0000.

We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with your federal drug charge arrest in California.

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