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Federal Drug Prosecutions



Much of drug trafficking in the United States consists of methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Prosecution for federal drug cases for trafficking of illegal drugs also includes steroids, synthetic drugs, and misuse of prescriptions.  These cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney in federal court as violations of Title 21, U.S. Code, §841, et seq.

Traditionally, cocaine was and is produced in, and trafficked through, South America, Central America, and Mexico.  We also see more groups south of the U.S. border producing and trafficking methamphetamine into the United States.  You will sometimes see charges of Importation of a Controlled Substance from a foreign country, in addition to the traditional charges of Conspiracy, Distribution, and Possession with Intent to Distribute.

Powder and Pure

Powder is the more traditional form of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.  The pure form (greater than 80% pure) is referred to in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines as “actual.”  According to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, “actual” means the weight of the drug itself contained in the mixture or substance.  Most usually, the drug is less, or substantially less, than 100% pure.  In other words, it is the weight of the drug that actually exists within the mixture/powder.

“Ice” is pure methamphetamine, and it is also referred to as “crystal meth.”  The pure form of cocaine is “crack.”  Drugs cooked into pure form give a more potent product for users.  Due to the dangerous potency of the pure form, the Sentencing Guidelines ranks the pure form higher in the calculations than powder.  A smaller quantity of pure may, or will, calculate to a higher imprisonment recommendation range than a larger quantity of powder.

Investigations and Evidence

Case agents and investigators will use the following sources of information and evidence to support a federal drug trafficking case in federal court.  These sources of information and evidence include:

1) telephone records and location pings;

2) tape-recorded conversations;

3) surveillance of targets of the investigation and photographs of meetings;

4) informants/cooperators/sources of information;

5) seizure of drug ledgers and other communications;

6) illegal drugs found in a home or vehicle;

7) text messages;

8) documented sales of substances;

9) bank records;

10) large amounts of cash;

11) trash “runs,” where agents and officers search through trash cans of targets of the investigation, searching for communications with other persons and evidence of travel or purchases of items.


Conspiracy is a charge that you expect to find in a federal drug trafficking Indictment.  This charge gives federal prosecutors the ability to include other persons of a lesser role, while still charging them with a serious charge that alleges trafficking of illegal drugs.

A conspiracy means that:  1) two or more people agree to involve themselves in criminal activity (here, obtaining, transporting, and selling drugs for a profit, delivering cash for purchase, and transporting and/or hiding drug sales monies); 2) at least one of the conspirators attempts to carry out the purpose and goal of the conspiracy; and 3) it does not matter if the attempted conspiracy plan succeeds or fails; the conspirators can be prosecuted regardless.

Major or Minor Participant

Also, there are varying degrees of involvement and responsibility within a conspiracy.  For purposes of determining whether a person is guilty of conspiracy, any person can be responsible for the acts of the co-conspirators.  It is also common in large drug trafficking conspiracies, for a defendant not to know other persons in the Indictment.  They all have at least one “common thread,” such as a supplier.  A person with a minor role who is convicted should calculate at a lower prison recommendation than others.

Importation into the United States

Traditional federal charges for drug trafficking are conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, and distribution. Evidence of illegal drugs brought into the United States from a foreign country gives the government charges of “importation.”  The charge of importation of a controlled substance is a charge separate from conspiracy or distribution.

A person can be involved in a conspiracy but not bring drugs into the United States from a foreign country.  He can still be enhanced to a greater Sentencing Guidelines calculation for “importing” if the drugs originated in a foreign country.

Sentencing Guidelines

The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines is a point system to calculate a recommended imprisonment ranges for defendants in federal court.  It is largely driven by the quantity of the illegal drug for which a defendant is deemed to be responsible.

This is why the stakes, which are high to begin with in federal court cases, are even higher for pure substances.  Former federal prosecutor John Teakell can advise you on any federal drug case and how the Guidelines could affect you.


Cooperation is common in federal drug cases, and a defendant can be rewarded with a sentence reduction for cooperation that produces results.  A person charged in federal court should consider several factors before cooperating to determine if it is in his best interest.

There are additional ways to potentially lower a recommended sentence in federal court.  Federal defense attorney John Teakell can prepare for trial, or pursue a lower sentence if it is in the client’s best interest.


Federal sentences for drug trafficking cases are harsh.  If you are under investigation or are charged with a drug case in federal court, contact federal defense attorney John Teakell for help.

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