How Does the Weight of a Substance Affect Federal Drug Crime Cases?

A federal drug trafficking conviction carries hefty penalties, including imprisonment. Various factors will be considered when determining the length of the prison term. For certain drugs, one of the variables looked at will be the weight of the substance. The difference between a 5-year mandatory minimum and a 10-year mandatory minimum can rest on just a couple hundred grams of a substance. For other drugs, the federal statute does not list weight-dependent mandatory minimums. Instead, the prison sentences are based on the Schedule the controlled substance is in. If you’re facing a federal drug crime charge, retaining a criminal defense lawyer is important, as they can expend the resources and effort needed to challenge the allegations.

To schedule a consultation with one of our Minneapolis attorneys at Brockton D. Hunter P.A., please contact us at (612) 979-1112 today.

The Federal Drug Crime Law

One of the federal statutes concerning drug trafficking is 21 U.S.C. § 841. The law prohibits anyone from knowingly and intentionally manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances. Additionally, possessing drugs with the intent to engage in any of the acts described above is unlawful.

The statute also lists the potential penalties that can be imposed upon a conviction for a federal drug crime. Subsections (1)(A) and (1)(B) concern the possible punishments when a person is found guilty of trafficking certain amounts and types of drugs.

When the Sentence Is Specifically Tied to the Weight of the Drug

The federal prison term is tied to the amount of the drug when the crime involved a specific substance.

These substances include the following:

  • Heroin,
  • Cocaine,
  • Phencyclidine (PCP),
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD),
  • Marijuana, and
  • Methamphetamine.

The law does not concern only the weight of the pure form of the drug. It also concerns the weight of any other substance mixed with it. Subsections (1)(A) and (1)(B) specifically state “a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of” a certain drug. To illustrate, suppose someone trafficked 1 kilogram of a substance. An analysis reveals that the substance contained some heroin. Because the total weight of the substance was 1 kilogram, the individual faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence, even though the substance wasn’t 1 kilogram of pure heroin.

In some cases, the law specifically addresses pure forms of a drug. For example, a judge can impose a certain mandatory minimum if someone is found guilty of trafficking 100 grams or more of PCP. This refers to the drug itself and not the drug mixed with some other substance. Similar penalties can be applied if the person trafficked 1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of PCP.

When the Weight of the Drug Isn’t Listed

For offenses involving drugs other than those stated above, the federal statute does not specify the weight when discussing sentences. Rather, it bases the penalties on the Schedule the substance is in.

Schedules refer to the classifications of drugs according to their accepted medical use and potential for abuse and physical and psychological dependence. Five Schedules exist, with Schedule I containing the most serious substances and Schedule V containing the least. As such, if someone is convicted of trafficking a Schedule I controlled substance, they could face greater penalties than a person found guilty of trafficking a Schedule V controlled substance.

The Potential Penalties for Drug Trafficking

As noted, the possible punishments for manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing drugs are partly tied to the substance’s weight. For drugs like heroin, cocaine, meth, LSD, PCP, and marijuana, the statute lists mandatory minimums depending on the amount of the drug. For example, a person can face 5 to 40 years for trafficking in “100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin.” The mandatory minimum doubles, and the maximum jumps to life imprisonment if the person trafficked “1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin.”

For drugs where only the Schedule is listed for determining penalties, the possible punishments include the following:

  • Up to 20 years for a Schedule I or II drug
  • Up to 10 years for a Schedule III drug
  • Up to 5 years for a Schedule IV drug
  • Up to 1 year for a Schedule V drug

The sentences discussed for both weighted and non-weighted substances provide guidelines for the judge. They can impose a prison term anywhere within the range, with the specific penalty depending on other factors, such as the person’s level of involvement in the crime.

Fight Your Federal Drug Crime Charge

A lawyer experienced in handling federal crime cases can help defend against charges. They can review the facts to identify weaknesses in proof. They may also call on experts to conduct a separate analysis of the substance in question to determine whether the weight claimed by the government is accurate.

Reach out to our Minneapolis team at Brockton D. Hunter P.A. by calling (612) 979-1112 or submitting an online contact form today.