I. Federal Prosecutions
Much of the drug trafficking in the United States consists of methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Federal prosecution for trafficking of illegal drugs also includes synthetic drugs. Large drug trafficking cases are prosecuted as federal cases by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Most drug cases prosecuted in federal court are charged as conspiracy, distribution of a controlled substance, possession of a drug with intent to distribute, and importation of a controlled substance. There are enhanced penalties if previous convictions exist, and if bodily injury results or if death results.
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. A lesser participant can still be charged with a serious charge that alleges trafficking of illegal drugs.
A conspiracy is an agreement to do an illegal act. The first “element” of the conspiracy is 1) two or more people agree to participate in criminal activity (transporting and selling drugs for a profit, making deliveries of the product, storing the product, and/or making financial transactions with drug proceeds). The second element is 2) one or more conspirators attempt to carry out the purpose and goal of the conspiracy. The third element is 3) even if the conspiracy plan fails, the conspirators can be prosecuted regardless.
III. Who Can Be Named as a Conspirator?
A person can be labeled by investigators as being part of a “DTO,” meaning a drug trafficking organization. This is true even if he is a marketer, or a person who provides storage space for the product, or a person who provides financial assistance. Those who are not “hands on” can be included in a conspiracy charge, if they participate in these realistic situations. That is, a person who does on-line marketing, website hosting, or Internet optimization can conceivably be prosecuted. An example is if a person markets a group’s “spice,” which is synthetic marijuana sprayed with chemicals for enhancement. A marketer may even be told that the product is safe and legal. Another example is person managing storage space for a company claiming the need for products to be loaded and unloaded. The person who arranges for storage and rentals could be charged with conspiracy. This is true even if he/she is not aware that products are illegal substances. This is where the government has to prove the person’s criminal intent of his/her actions.
IV. Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury or Death
The added allegation of “causing serious bodily injury or death” is usually based on a customer’s use of drugs sold. Whether heroin, fentanyl, “spice,” or some other drug, a person’s injury or death will increase penalties for trafficking.
V. Cause of Death
If the prosecution can prove that the injury or death was from the drugs sold, then the increased penalties apply. If the drugs contributed to the injury or death, then persons involved could be convicted with increased penalties.
In determining whether a participating person is guilty, a person can be responsible for the acts of the co-conspirators. That is why it is important to show the prosecutor that you were not acting with criminal intent. That is, you either did not know what the product contained, or you were told that it is legal.
VII. Synthetic Marijuana and Spice Prosecutions
Synthetic cannabinoids are also called synthetic marijuana. Often synthetic marijuana is sprayed or laced with various chemicals to increase the psychoactive characteristics of the drug. This results in product often known as “spice” or “K2.” It also can be an herbal blend or similar, that is sprayed with chemicals to give a “high.”
In addition to psychoactive results, these synthetics may cause other symptoms. These include increased blood pressure and heart rate, and hallucinations.
The unknown chemicals in and on the synthetics can harm a person, or even contribute to death. Persons who were involved in the chain of distribution of the synthetics can be prosecuted for conspiracy to traffick drugs. In this type of case, the persons involved are alleged to have caused serious bodily injury or death.
VIII. Increased Penalties
When serious bodily injury or death occurs from the use of illegal drugs that were trafficked, then penalties increase. Under the drug trafficking statutes, the penalties significantly increase for serious bodily injury or death.
Title 21 of the U.S. Code contains the federal laws against drug trafficking. Generally, the larger the quantity of drugs involved, the higher the penalties. When injury or death results from the use of a drug sold, then those penalties are double or more.
When penalties for drug quantity levels are 10 years to life, then the maximum penalty becomes 20 years to life. Title 21 U.S. Code, Section 841 reads that 10 years – life increases to 20 years – life for death or serious bodily injury. For drug trafficking penalties of five (5) to forty (40) years, injury or death increases the range to 20 years – life.
If you are under investigation for trafficking or any other federal case, contact former federal prosecutor John Teakell. Mr. Teakell can advise you about your investigation and navigate the federal criminal process. Mr. Teakell will submit information to the prosecution and form the strategy for your defense.