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A look at federal drug trafficking sentencing guidelines

The trend in Texas over recent years has been to toughen drug laws. But it’s not just our state that has stretched out mandatory minimums, steadily increasing the number of people sent to prison and the length of time each one convicted must spend behind bars. The federal government and many other states have done it, too.

Among the toughest are the federal drug crimes sentencing guidelines. They include lengthy mandatory minimums with little discretion for judges to impose more lenient penalties. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s website is a stark, straightforward look at the sentencing that follows federal drug trafficking convictions. The government separates the sentences into groups defined by the type of drug sold, the amount distributed and the number, if any, of previous drug dealing convictions.

For instance, a person convicted of a first offense of selling between 500 and 4,999 grams of cocaine mixture can expect to serve a minimum of five years in federal prison. The maximum sentence for this offense is 40 years. If their crimes involved a person’s death or a serious bodily injury, the minimum goes to 20 years, with a maximum sentence of life.

On top of that, individuals can be subject to heavy fines, not to exceed $5 million.

The same sentencing guidelines are applied in cases involving methamphetamine (5 to 49 grams, pure meth; 50 to 499 of a mixture), PCP (10 to 99 grams pure; 100 to 999 grams mixture) and heroin (100 to 999 grams mixture), among other narcotics.

To say that these penalties are harsh is to understate the matter. Those facing the penalties understand the importance of having a criminal defense attorney experienced in defending clients at trial and in negotiations.

Source: DEA, Federal Trafficking Penalties, retrieved July 2014

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