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What Legal Defenses Can Be Used Against Federal Drug Charges?

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 21, 2023)

Last Updated on: 21st October 2023, 08:58 am


Legal Defenses Against Federal Drug Charges

If you’ve been charged with a federal drug crime, don’t panic. There are a number of legal defenses that a good lawyer can use to fight the charges against you. This article will go over some of the most common defenses used in federal drug cases and give you an idea of what options are out there.

Lack of Evidence

One of the most basic defenses is to argue that the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that you actually committed the crime. If the evidence against you is weak or circumstantial, a good defense attorney can argue there is reasonable doubt and you should be found not guilty.

For example, if the only evidence is a small amount of drugs found in your car, your lawyer could argue the drugs belonged to someone else, like a friend or family member who borrowed the car. Or if you’re caught with drugs after a suspicious tip, your lawyer can argue the informant isn’t credible.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Another common defense is to claim the police obtained evidence through an illegal search or seizure that violated your Fourth Amendment rights. If the search of your property or person was done without a warrant or probable cause, the evidence found may be excluded.

For instance, if officers stopped and searched you without reasonable suspicion of a crime, any drugs found during that search could not be used to prosecute you. Or if the police searched your home without a warrant and discovered drugs, that evidence could be suppressed.


A defense of entrapment claims that you were induced or coerced by police into committing a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have. For this defense to work, you have to show you had no predisposition to commit the crime until law enforcement pressured you into it.

This applies mainly to undercover sting operations. If an undercover agent aggressively pushed you to deal drugs you were initially unwilling to sell, that aggressive behavior could constitute entrapment. But you have to prove you weren’t already predisposed to sell the drugs.

Outrageous Government Conduct

Similar to entrapment, you could claim the government’s conduct was so outrageous that it violates due process and warrants dismissal. This defense argues that police overstepped the bounds of proper investigative techniques and essentially manufactured the crime.

For example, providing ingredients to synthesize illegal drugs or repeatedly supplying drugs to build evidence could be viewed as outrageous government conduct. But the conduct usually needs to be quite extreme to succeed with this defense.

Lack of Knowledge

You can defend against drug possession charges by claiming you had no knowledge the drugs were there. Essentially you argue that someone else placed the drugs in your belongings or vehicle without your knowledge.

This defense requires you to show you didn’t know about the drugs and usually works best alongside an argument that the drugs belonged to someone else. It also applies mainly to possession charges, since a lack of knowledge is not a defense against charges of selling drugs.

Duress or Necessity

The defenses of duress and necessity argue you committed the crime out of fear or compulsion. For example, you could claim you trafficked drugs because a drug cartel threatened your family if you refused. Or you possessed drugs because a violent partner forced you to. These defenses require proof of imminent harm if you didn’t break the law.

Necessity is used when you argue you broke the law to prevent a greater harm from occurring. For instance, a medical necessity defense could argue that using marijuana is necessary to treat a debilitating health condition.

Mental Incapacity

You can claim you lacked the mental capacity to understand your actions or know right from wrong. This defense requires providing evidence of a mental disease or defect through psychological evaluations. It likely requires testimony from mental health professionals.

In federal court, this defense rarely succeeds fully. But it may lead prosecutors to drop the most serious charges and pursue lesser charges instead.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations sets a time limit for prosecutors to file charges after a crime occurs. For federal drug crimes, this ranges from 3-5 years usually. If charges are brought after the statute of limitations expires, a good defense lawyer can get the case dismissed.

The clock for the statute of limitations starts when the crime is complete, not when it’s discovered. This defense succeeds if prosecutors missed the filing deadline.

Illegal Arrest

If the initial arrest that brought you into custody was unlawful, evidence obtained as a result may be suppressed. An illegal arrest occurs if police lacked probable cause or a warrant to make the arrest. Any statements you made or evidence found after an illegal arrest could potentially be excluded.

Violation of Speedy Trial Rights

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. If prosecutors delay your trial excessively, your charges could possibly be dismissed on speedy trial grounds. To succeed, you must show the delay caused actual prejudice against your defense.

Federal courts look at four factors to determine if speedy trial rights were violated: the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, whether the defense asserted speedy trial rights, and if the delay prejudiced the defense.

Violation of Plea Agreement

If prosecutors offer a plea deal but then rescind the offer unjustly, file additional charges, or make sentencing recommendations they agreed not to, it violates the plea agreement. This breach of the agreement can be used as a defense to nullify the plea deal.

However, you usually have to show how the violation prejudiced you or that you relied on the plea offer in good faith before withdrawing your plea.

Those are some of the most common defenses used to fight federal drug crimes. But every case is different, so talk to an experienced federal drug defense lawyer about the best defense strategies for your specific situation.

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