Because it shares miles of border with Mexico, California has long been a common conduit for illegal drugs filtering into the United States. Over the last several decades, the “War on Drugs” waged by law enforcement in the U.S. has caused penalties for drug smuggling to increase dramatically. If you have recently been charged with trafficking, or smuggling, drugs you are probably wondering “ Will I go to federal prison? ” There is no universal answer to that question as every case presents a unique set of facts and circumstances. Moreover, only an experienced California federal criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case and provide you with specific advice; however, a better understanding of federal trafficking laws may be beneficial in the meantime.
In the United States we operate under a federalist form of government. That means that we have a centralized government (the federal government) and numerous smaller localized governments (the state governments). As such, criminal offenses can be charged at the federal level, the state level, or both in some cases. Likewise, both federal and state law enforcement agencies investigate crimes. At the federal level, drug crimes are investigated primarily by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA. DEA officers don’t typically investigate individual cases of possession or even the sale of small quantities of drugs. Instead, the DEA usually investigates large conspiracies involving smuggling large quantities of drugs into the country and/or the trafficking or sale of large quantities of illegal drugs. For this reason, the odds are favorable that if you were arrested and charged by the federal government you were likely under investigation for some time prior to the arrest.
If you are convicted of a federal crime you will be sentenced using the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These take into account the severity of the offense and your own criminal history. Factors such as cooperating with the authorities may mitigate your recommended sentence. Just as is the case at the state level, probation is possible for some federal offenses. Conversely, factors such as the presence of weapons during the commission of the crime can aggravate the recommended sentence.
By definition, “smuggling”, properly referred to as “trafficking”, typically involves large amounts of a controlled substance. Therefore, the sentencing range if convicted will usually include a significant term of incarceration, usually five years or more. The key to avoiding a prison term for a trafficking offense is to mount a successful defense and avoid a conviction in the first place. If you have been charged with a federal offense involving trafficking or smuggling drugs it is imperative that you consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner an attorney gets involved the better the odds of avoiding a conviction and, therefore, avoiding a prison sentence.
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