Any person who smuggles illicit drugs or controlled substances, such as cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy or even unlawful prescription drugs, across a border can face charges for federal drug smuggling. Even marijuana, which has been legalized in the state of California, is still illegal under federal law, which means you could face federal charges for smuggling marijuana if you transport the drug from one state to another or from another country into the United States.
Drug-related crimes that violate federal law are taken extremely seriously by the federal government and the consequences of a federal drug conviction are harsh. At Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers, we make federal drug crimes like drug smuggling, drug trafficking and drug importation/exportation a top priority and we can provide you with the knowledgeable, assertive legal defense you deserve.
We are committed to protecting our clients’ rights and best interests following a drug smuggling arrest. Contact our firm today to speak to a qualified federal criminal defense lawyer about your legal options.
What is Drug Smuggling?
The two main federal drug laws in the United States are the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S. Code Subchapter I – Control and Enforcement § 801-904) and the Controlled Substances Import/Export Act (21 U.S. Code Subchapter II – Import and Export § 951-971), which cover the majority of drug crimes that can result in federal charges, including drug smuggling and related offenses. Federal drug smuggling charges are based on allegations that the defendant unlawfully distributed or imported a controlled substance without permission.
In some cases, a defendant may be accused of using a “mule,” or courier, to smuggle illicit drugs or controlled substances across the border into the United States. Or the defendant may be accused of disguising illegal drugs as legal cargo to sneak them into the country or of hiding the drugs within cargo being brought into the U.S. from another country, such as Mexico.
The Controlled Substance Act is the federal law under which the use, manufacture and distribution of certain drugs and substances is regulated. Known as “controlled” substances, these substances are placed into one of five distinct categories or “schedules,” based on their medical use, potential for abuse and dependence liability. Schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and dependence and no currently accepted medical use, while Schedule V drugs have the lowest potential for abuse and dependence and a currently accepted medical use. The following are some examples of controlled substances that may be involved in a drug smuggling operation and the schedules they belong to:
• Schedule I – Heroin, marijuana, peyote, ecstasy, LSD
• Schedule II – Cocaine, Vicodin, methamphetamine, methadone, Adderall
• Schedule III – Tylenol with codeine, testosterone, anabolic steroids, ketamine
• Schedule IV – Xanax, Ambien, Valium, Tramadol
• Schedule V – Robitussin AC, Lomotil, Lyrica
Federal Charges for Drug Smuggling
Not all drug-related crimes are federal offenses. There are laws in California that prohibit the possession, sale and purchase of controlled substances like narcotics, heroin and cocaine, and violations of these laws are generally prosecuted in state court. However, there are specific circumstances that, if present in your case, can result in federal drug charges.
For instance, the federal government may have jurisdiction over your drug case if the alleged criminal activity crossed state lines or international borders (which is likely the case with drug smuggling), if it had an effect on interstate commerce, or if it took place on federal property. You could also face federal charges if an informant working with the federal government named you, or if you were arrested by federal agents. Even if you are arrested by local law enforcement in California, if the drug smuggling crime you are accused of committing is part of an illegal drug operation or continuing criminal enterprise, it would likely fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government and be charged as a federal offense.
Consequences of a Drug Smuggling Charge
You can face drug smuggling charges for transporting illicit drugs or unauthorized prescription drugs from one state to another or into the United States from another country without legal permission. You can also face additional federal charges depending on the facts of your case, such as drug conspiracy, money laundering or RICO charges. Although drug smugglers are often low-level members of a large drug operation, smuggling is a crucial element of the illegal drug trade and the penalties resulting from a drug smuggling conviction can be severe, even for first-time offenders.
Just like drug trafficking and drug manufacturing charges, the severity of a federal drug smuggling charge and the associated sentence, if the defendant is convicted, can vary a great deal depending on several factors. These include the type and amount of the controlled substance, whether death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of the controlled substance, and whether the defendant has a history of prior drug and/or violent crime convictions.
For instance, if you are caught unlawfully distributing or dispensing 100 grams or more of heroin, you could face a term of imprisonment of not less than five years and not more than 40 years under the federal drug trafficking statute, 21 U.S. Code § 841. If death or serious bodily injury results from the use of the substance, you could face a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years or more than life, plus millions of dollars in fines.
If you are convicted of this crime after a prior conviction for a serious drug felony or serious violent felony, you could face a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years or more than life. On the other hand, if you are caught distributing or dispensing one kilogram or more of heroin, you could face a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years or more than life. If you are convicted of this crime after a prior conviction for a serious drug felony or serious violent felony, you could face a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years or more than life.
If you are caught smuggling drugs into the United States from another country, you could face criminal charges under the federal laws that prohibit the unauthorized importation or exportation of controlled substances.
The unlawful importation of controlled substances is automatically charged as a federal offense because only the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute a crime involving the transportation of illegal drugs across international borders. The penalties for unlawful drug importation are dictated by the mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes and are based on the type and quantity of the drug. For instance, importing 500 grams or more of cocaine is punishable by a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while importing five kilograms or more of cocaine is punishable by a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
If you are accused of engaging in a drug smuggling activity as part of a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of Subchapter I or Subchapter II of Title 21 of the U.S. Code, you could be sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of 20 years in federal prison or life imprisonment, plus millions of dollars in fines and criminal forfeiture (21 U.S. Code § 848).
What Our Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Do for You
Our attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers have years of experience representing clients accused of a wide variety of federal drug charges, such as drug smuggling, drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, drug distribution and drug conspiracy, and we know what it takes to mount a strong defense against the federal government.
Our lawyers can analyze the evidence against you, inform you of your legal rights, advise you of the strongest defense strategy available to you based on your specific charges, negotiate with the prosecution and fight for your rights in federal court.
We have the experience, skill and resources necessary to guide you through every step of your drug smuggling case and help you get the best possible result. With our trusted legal team representing your side, you may be able to secure an acquittal, a dismissal or another favorable outcome in your federal drug case. All you have to do is call us and schedule a free legal consultation.
Contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers for Capable Legal Representation
State and federal law enforcement officials across the United States are cracking down on crimes that involve the distribution of illicit drugs and controlled substances across state lines or international borders, and if you have been accused of transporting drugs between states or into the United States from another country, you could face federal charges for drug smuggling.
A drug smuggling conviction can have life-long consequences for you and your family members, possibly including a mandatory term of imprisonment in federal prison, but just because you have been arrested for drug smuggling does not mean incarceration is inevitable.
You have the right to defend yourself against these charges, and with the right criminal defense attorney on your side, you may be able to avoid a life-changing drug smuggling conviction. Contact our federal crimes defense lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today to find out how we can help you protect your rights and safeguard your freedom.