I. Federal Drug Prosecutions
Most of the drug cases in federal courts in the United States are trafficking related activities, as opposed to possession of an illegal drug. The common federal court charges brought by the U.S. Attorney are: 1) Conspiracy (usually conspiracy to distribute and/or conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute); 2) Distribution; 3) Possession with Intent to Distribute; 4) Importation of a Controlled Substance; and/or 5) Maintaining a Drug Involved Premises. There are other potential charges, including Use of a Communication Device and Possession of a Controlled Substance, yet these are not as commonly used for federal drug cases. There are also firearms charges that relate to drug trafficking cases, and many money laundering charges are based upon drug trafficking activities.
II. Common Enhancements
Enhancements in federal drug cases, or increases to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines calculations for sentencing recommendations, commonly include:
- Increased quantities;
- Pure substance, instead of a mixture of an illegal drug with another substance. Note that a drug product that is 80% or more in purity, is considered “pure” for federal Sentencing Guidelines calculations;
- Leader, organizer, or manager of a group;
- Carrying or using a firearm during a drug trafficking felony;
- Substance was imported from another country; and
- Product sold caused serious bodily injury or death.
Evidence that you normally find in federal drug cases are several of these types, if not all these types:
- Documented transaction of a sale (and purchase by undercover law enforcement);
- Photographs of persons meeting;
- Phone records of calls;
- Recordings of phone conversations;
- Phone “ping” records showing a person’s location at a particular time;
- Substances, notes, monies, firearms, etc. found in search warrant executions;
- Testimony of law enforcement agents or officers, cooperators, and informants;
- Lease records;
- Travel records; and
- Drug “ledgers” showing amounts and monies owed; and
- Purchases of expensive items.
IV. “Dry” Conspiracy
A “dry” conspiracy is a slang phrase for a drug trafficking case where the prosecution relies on evidence that does not include actual illegal drugs. In other words, the prosecution has a case in which law enforcement never placed any illegal substances on a person, in his home or car, or near him. So, although there is no identifiable illegal drug found to rely upon for the charge(s), the prosecution will rely on a variety of other evidence.
V. Evidence in a Dry Conspiracy Case
A conspiracy is an agreement between two (2) or more people to commit an illegal act. When a particular person or persons are charged in a conspiracy, yet there is no evidence of any actual illegal drug in their physical possession or stored on their property, the prosecution relies then on various other pieces of evidence. The prosecutors will use evidence that exists as listed in III. above, but the prosecution often relies heavily on testimony of cooperators who can testify about the defendants’ drug activities. Usually, the cooperators who testify are involved in drug activities themselves and in the same conspiracy as the defendants. Cooperators in these circumstances have most usually entered into plea agreements with the prosecution, and they testify in efforts to obtain sentence reductions for themselves.
VI. Conviction and Penalties
If a person in a so-called dry conspiracy case is convicted of a conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs, or possession of an illegal drug with the intent to distribute, then the conviction and penalties are the same as if there were illegal drugs placed on them or in their control.
A question after a conviction in a dry conspiracy case concerns the quantity of the illegal drug that will be assigned to the defendant for sentencing purposes. The court will hear evidence of the defendant’s activities and make rulings based upon credible evidence of the defendant’s involvement and quantity levels.
If you are under investigation for any federal case, contact former federal prosecutor John Teakell. Mr. Teakell can help you navigate the federal criminal process and prepare your defense.