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Last Updated on: 21st October 2023, 08:28 am
Being charged with drug smuggling can be an incredibly scary and overwhelming experience. The penalties for federal drug crimes are severe, potentially involving years or even decades in prison. However, an experienced federal crimes attorney has tools at their disposal to get charges reduced or even dismissed entirely. Don’t lose hope – read on to learn how the right lawyer can help you avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences.
The first thing an attorney will do is closely examine the specific statutes you’ve been charged under. There are many different federal laws related to drug crimes, with different elements that must be proven. For example, there are laws prohibiting drug importation, drug trafficking, drug possession, and drug distribution. The specific language of the law matters greatly.
Your lawyer will look for weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case that could lead to charges being dismissed. For instance, if you’ve been charged with drug trafficking under 21 USC § 841, the government must prove you knowingly or intentionally manufactured, distributed, dispensed, or possessed illegal drugs. If the evidence for knowledge or intent looks flimsy, your attorney can file a motion to dismiss.
Another avenue for dismissal is challenging improper police conduct leading to your arrest. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If the police lacked probable cause to stop and search you, or conducted an illegal search violating your rights, any evidence found may be suppressed.
For example, in U.S. v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency, the Ninth Circuit ruled border agents needed reasonable suspicion to forcibly inspect a vehicle at the border beyond a routine customs search. Random invasive searches are unconstitutional. If drugs were found in your car after an illegal search at the border, your lawyer can argue for suppression.
A skilled attorney may also argue you were entrapped by government agents. Entrapment occurs when the government induces someone to commit a crime they otherwise wouldn’t. For example, if an undercover agent pressured you relentlessly to transport drugs after you showed no initial interest or willingness, that may constitute entrapment.
Courts use a two-part test for entrapment: 1) government inducement of the crime, and 2) the defendant’s lack of predisposition to engage in it. Undercover operations walking up to random people asking to buy drugs constitute inducement. If you had no history of drug crimes, it supports lack of predisposition. Showing entrapment can lead to dismissal.
If dismissal looks unlikely, your attorney will pursue plea bargaining for reduced charges or sentencing. An experienced lawyer knows how to craft persuasive arguments to the prosecutor advocating for leniency. They may present mitigating factors about you and your circumstances, or instill doubt by contesting evidence and legal theories.
Many federal drug crimes carry harsh mandatory minimum sentences, but your lawyer can negotiate plea deals granting exceptions. For example, if you were charged with trafficking over 500 grams of cocaine under 21 USC 841(b)(1)(B), you’d face a 5-year mandatory minimum. But Section 841(b)(1)(C) provides no mandatory minimum for under 500 grams. Your attorney could leverage an exception to avoid the minimum.
In some cases, it may be possible to avoid criminal prosecution entirely through pretrial diversion or deferred prosecution agreements. Your lawyer may be able to negotiate admitting you into a rehabilitation, treatment, or counseling program in exchange for eventual dismissal upon successful completion. These alternatives can prevent devastating criminal convictions.
In sum, an experienced federal crimes lawyer has many tools to dismiss or reduce drug smuggling charges. Careful scrutiny of the charges, contesting unconstitutional police misconduct, arguing entrapment, negotiating plea bargains, and pursuing alternative resolutions can help avoid lengthy mandatory minimums or other harsh penalties. Don’t lose hope – fight back with skilled legal representation.
U.S. v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency, 458 F.3d 822 (9th Cir. 2006)
U.S. v. Spentz, 653 F.3d 815 (9th Cir. 2011)
U.S. v. Thickstun, 110 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997)
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