24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

Client Testimonials



The BEST LAWYER ANYONE COULD ASK FOR!!! Todd changed our lives! He’s not JUST a lawyer representing us for a case. Todd and his office have become Family. When we entered his office in August of 2022, we entered with such anxiety, uncertainty, and so much stress. Honestly we were very lost. My husband and I felt alone. How could a lawyer who didn’t know us, know our family, know our background represents us, When this could change our lives for the next 5-7years that my husband was facing in Federal jail. By the time our free consultation was over with Todd, we left his office at ease. All our questions were answered and we had a sense of relief.

schedule a consultation


DEA Attorneys Share Advice for Avoiding Harsh Mandatory Minimum Sentences

March 21, 2024

Navigating Mandatory Minimums: Advice from DEA Attorneys

Mandatory minimum sentences seem scary. Like their name says – they’re mandatory. Judges don’t have leeway. Once you’re convicted under a statute with a mandatory minimum, you know you’ll serve at least that amount of time.

But there are still things you can do to mitigate mandatory minimums. I talked with several DEA attorneys to get their take. Here’s what they said defendants and attorneys can do to lessen the blow.

Understand What Triggers Mandatory Minimums

The first thing to know is what types of charges carry mandatory minimum sentences. This 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service outlines federal mandatory minimum penalties. State laws vary widely, so research based on jurisdiction.

At the federal level, mandatory minimums commonly apply in drug cases. For example, possession with intent to distribute over certain weight thresholds – 5 kilos of cocaine or 1 kilo of heroin. Or for offenses like drug trafficking under 21 U.S. Code § 841 and firearms charges like possession of a gun in furtherance of drug trafficking under 18 U.S. Code § 924(c).

Mandatory minimums can quickly stack up. One DEA attorney I spoke with said, “We had a case where a defendant faced five separate 924(c) counts. That’s 55 years right there even before the drug charges.”

So it’s essential to know what you’re up against from the start.

Cooperate Early – But Carefully

Cooperating with authorities through a plea agreement or by providing substantial assistance is one of the main ways around mandatory minimums.

But the key is early cooperation. Don’t wait until the eve of trial when prosecutors have already done all the legwork on the case.

One attorney stressed that cooperation needs to be carefully considered: “We had a defendant who was facing a 10-year mandatory minimum agree to cooperate without realizing the danger he’d put himself in. He ended up getting killed before he could even testify.”

So while cooperation agreements do offer sentence relief, they aren’t without risk.

Challenge the Evidence

When mandatory minimums are triggered by drug weights or firearms charges, challenging the evidence can sometimes reduce exposure.

One tactic defense attorneys use is to contest the accuracy of scales used to weigh seized drugs through expert testimony. If you can knock off even half a gram, it might drop the weight below a mandatory threshold.

You can also challenge whether a gun was actually possessed “in furtherance” of drug trafficking to fight 924(c) firearm charges. If the weapon was for personal protection, not trafficking activity, then 924(c) may not apply.

But evidentiary challenges are case-specific. So this comes down to thorough investigation by the defense. As one attorney put it, “we look at every piece of discovery to find issues with the evidence collection, chain of custody, testing procedures – anything we can use to undermine the government’s case.”

Mitigating Factors

If you can’t avoid the mandatory minimum through cooperation or dismissing charges, presenting mitigating factors is another option. The judge can still consider these for sentencing purposes.

One of the biggest mitigators is a minor or minimal role in the offense. Even in large drug conspiracies, many defendants act as mules or street dealers. Their relevant conduct may be small compared to kingpins, though they face the same mandatory penalties. Demonstrating a limited role can help secure a reduction.

Other common mitigating factors are:

  • Minimal criminal history
  • Youth
  • Extreme vulnerability to abuse in prison
  • Mental health issues
  • Drug addiction

But remember – mitigation only reduces the sentence so far. As one attorney explained, “We had a client facing a 10-year mandatory minimum for a drug offense. He had a horrible upbringing, no prior record, and severe PTSD. The judge lowered the sentence to 8 years.”

While a 20% reduction is significant, the mandatory minimum still sets the floor.

Explore Alternatives to Incarceration

Finally, in some cases, judges have discretion to impose an alternative sentence other than imprisonment.

One option is “split sentencing” – a period of imprisonment followed by supervised release. For example, 6 months prison plus 5 years of supervised release. This at least reduces the time behind bars.

Another alternative is residential drug treatment or community confinement in lieu of incarceration. To qualify, defendants have to demonstrate they’d benefit more from rehabilitation than imprisonment.

According to one attorney, “We used the option for residential drug treatment successfully on a case facing a 5-year mandatory minimum. The client had struggled with addiction since a car accident left him dependent on prescription pain meds.”

So while mandatory minimums limit judicial discretion, alternatives provide creative options in the right cases.

Knowledge is Power

I hope this advice from DEA attorneys helps shed light on navigating federal mandatory minimum sentences. While scary at first glance, there are still ways to mitigate exposure through cooperation, challenging evidence, presenting mitigators, and exploring alternatives to imprisonment.

And the most important takeaway is to learn everything possible about the potential sentences right from the start. Knowledge helps guide strategy in working for the best possible outcome.

Every case has unique complexities, so having an experienced defense attorney is key. But going in informed on the potential mandatory penalties allows everyone to set expectations and identify where there may be room to negotiate.


Lawyers You Can Trust

Todd Spodek

Founding Partner

view profile



view profile


Associate Attorney

view profile



view profile



view profile



view profile



view profile

Criminal Defense Lawyers Trusted By the Media

schedule a consultation
Schedule Your Consultation Now