NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 29th November 2023, 05:58 am
What to Do if You Are Facing Federal Drug Charges in NYC
Getting arrested and charged with a federal drug crime can be an incredibly scary and overwhelming experience. The potential consequences are severe, with mandatory minimum sentences that can mean years or even decades behind bars. Even first-time, non-violent offenders are looking at substantial prison time if convicted.With so much on the line, it is absolutely critical that you take the charges seriously and work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney from the very start. A knowledgeable lawyer can analyze the details of your case, build strategic defenses, and fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed. Don’t go it alone against the formidable resources of federal prosecutors. You need strong legal advocacy on your side.
Understand the Charges Against You
The first step is to understand exactly what you have been charged with. Federal drug laws are complex, with many different charges carrying varying penalties. Your indictment will spell out the specific statutes you allegedly violated. Some of the most common federal drug crimes include:
- Possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance
- Distribution/trafficking of a controlled substance
- Manufacturing or cultivation of drugs
- Drug conspiracy
The type and quantity of drugs involved will also impact the charges and potential sentences. Even small amounts of drugs like fentanyl or heroin can trigger strict mandatory minimums.It is critical to identify any sentencing enhancements or aggravating factors that could increase your punishment. These can include prior felony drug convictions, possession of a firearm, distributing drugs near a school or other protected location, etc.
Seek Release on Bail
After being arrested, your first court appearance will be to address pretrial release or detention. The prosecution will argue that you are a flight risk and/or danger to the community and should be detained without bail. Your attorney will counter that you are not a risk, have strong ties to the community, and should be released on bail with appropriate conditions like electronic monitoring.Judges are required to impose the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure you show up for court proceedings and do not commit any more crimes. For many first-time, nonviolent defendants, that means release on bail is possible. But for those with prior records or who are charged with serious trafficking offenses, detention is much more likely.Getting released on bail allows you to fight your case from the outside and avoid the massive disruption of being incarcerated pretrial, which can go on for many months or longer. Your lawyer will advocate aggressively for your release.
Explore Plea Bargain Options
The vast majority of federal criminal cases end with plea bargains rather than trials. Prosecutors prefer to avoid the time and expense of a trial if they can get you to plead guilty in exchange for dropping or reducing some of the charges against you. This gives you certainty about the outcome rather than risking a guilty verdict and harsh mandatory minimums after trial.Your attorney will engage in plea negotiations to try to get you the best deal possible. This may involve pleading to a lesser charge, having certain enhancements dropped, or pursuing a sentencing departure from the guidelines. While you will still likely serve time in prison, the plea bargain can substantially reduce your overall exposure.However, you should never accept a plea deal without fully understanding the consequences. Your lawyer will advise if the deal is reasonable or if fighting at trial is the better option given the evidence in your case.
File Pretrial Motions
Prior to any plea or trial, your attorney will file pretrial motions seeking to have evidence against you excluded or suppressed. If drugs or other contraband were seized in an illegal search, your lawyer will file a motion to suppress the evidence and have it excluded from your trial.Other pretrial motions may seek to dismiss the indictment entirely due to constitutional violations or other flaws in the prosecution’s case. Getting evidence suppressed or charges dismissed pretrial can completely change the trajectory of your case in your favor.
Assess the Strength of the Government’s Case
Once you understand the charges against you and have all the discovery from the prosecution, your lawyer will assess the overall strength of the government’s case. This includes reviewing all physical evidence, witness statements, surveillance footage, wiretaps, and other sources of information the prosecution has to prove your guilt.If there are legal grounds to challenge the admissibility of key evidence or credibility of government witnesses, your attorney can file appropriate motions to weaken their case against you. It is also possible that further investigation and fact-finding by your lawyer uncovers new evidence and information that undercuts the prosecution’s version of events.Evaluating the strength of their case helps determine whether to fight at trial or consider a plea bargain. Your lawyer will give you their candid assessment of your chances before deciding how to proceed.
Build Viable Trial Defenses
If your case does go to trial, your attorney will advance defenses to counter the government’s evidence and arguments. Common trial defenses in drug cases include:
- Lack of knowledge – you did not know about the presence or type of drugs involved. Someone else had possession without your knowledge.
- Entrapment – you were improperly induced or coerced into committing the crime by government agents.
- Duress – you were forced into the illegal activity by threats of harm against you or loved ones.
- Conspiracy withdrawal – you withdrew from the conspiracy and drug activity prior to the time period charged.
- Mistaken identity – you are not actually the person who committed the drug crime.
Your lawyer will craft defenses based on the unique facts and circumstances of your case to show the jury reasonable doubt of your guilt.
Negotiate an Advantageous Plea Deal
If the evidence is strong and chances of acquittal at trial are low, your attorney will likely advise negotiating a plea bargain rather than risk a guilty verdict and harsh sentence. The goal is to get you the most lenient deal possible through extensive negotiations with the prosecution.This may involve pleading guilty to reduced charges or having certain sentencing enhancements dropped. Other terms of a favorable plea deal may include:
- Cooperation agreement – you provide substantial assistance in investigating/prosecuting others in exchange for sentencing leniency.
- Sentencing departure – prosecutors agree your case falls outside guidelines and warrants a more lenient sentence.
- Binding plea agreement – prosecutors commit to a specific, negotiated sentence or sentencing range.
- Safety valve eligibility – defendants meeting certain criteria can receive sentences below mandatory minimums.
Your lawyer will leverage any viable defenses and weaknesses in the government’s case to negotiate the most advantageous plea bargain achievable so you serve the least amount of prison time.
Present Mitigating Factors at Sentencing
If you are convicted after trial or plead guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, the court will impose a sentence based on federal sentencing guidelines and statutory provisions. Your attorney will present mitigating factors aimed at persuading the judge to go below the guidelines and mandatory minimums if possible.Mitigating factors may include:
- Minimal criminal history
- Non-violent offense
- Played small role in the conspiracy
- Drug addiction/substance abuse issues
- Taking responsibility and expressing remorse
- Strong family ties and community support
- Mental health conditions
- Vulnerabilities that were exploited
Your lawyer will put together a sentencing memorandum highlighting these mitigating factors and arguing for the lowest sentence permissible given the facts of your case. They will also call upon supportive witnesses like family members and treatment providers to testify on your behalf at the sentencing hearing.
File an Appeal if Necessary
If you are ultimately convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence, your lawyer will advise if there are viable grounds for an appeal. Appeals arguments may include things like improperly admitted evidence, lack of probable cause for arrest/searches, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, and more.Your attorney will handle filing the necessary post-trial motions and appellate briefs seeking to have your conviction or sentence overturned or reduced. Long shot appeals do occasionally succeed, giving you a chance to have your case dismissed or get a new trial or sentencing.Facing federal drug conspiracy and trafficking charges is scary. But taking the right legal steps with an experienced attorney can help you navigate the complex criminal justice system and achieve the most favorable outcome possible. Don’t wait to seek skilled legal representation. The earlier you have a lawyer in your corner, the better.