State and Federal Drug Crimes
Despite calls upon state and federal lawmakers to ease sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, the fact remains that a conviction at the state level and especially at the federal level can dramatically change your life. That being said, if you have been charged with a serious drug offense, you will need to do everything in your power to defend your rights and to protect your future from the consequences of a conviction. Though this is sure to be a difficult time for you and your family, it will be in your best interest to reach out to Horst Law as soon after your arrest as you are able. Until you retain legal counsel who can be present with you, there is no reason that you should speak with law enforcement about your case, regardless of what they offer you.
Simple Possession/Casual Exchange
Though charges of simple possession and casual exchange may carry the least severe of penalties under both state and federal law, the reality is that a conviction on these charges could drastically alter the direction of your life. In the state of Tennessee, a first-offense simple possession charge is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which could potentially carry just under a year of jail time if you are convicted. For every subsequent offense, simple possession charges are prosecuted as Class E felonies that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of a single year, but may end up being up to six years of state prison time.
If your case will be prosecuted at the federal level—which may happen if you are arrested by a federal officer, such as park ranger at a national park—you could be punished under federal sentencing guidelines. While there may not be mandatory minimum sentences for first offenses at the federal level, you could be sentenced to just under a year in federal prison if you are convicted. Second and third offenses do carry mandatory minimum sentences. However, unlike the state prison system, there are few opportunities for parole in the federal prison system, and you will likely end up serving the entirety of your sentence in prison if you are convicted.
Possession with Intent
When the authorities believe that a person possesses more of a controlled substance than could reasonably be for their own personal use, they may elect to charge that person with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver or sell the substance. However, it should be noted that simple possession charges may be elevated to possession with intent if a person was arrested in the presence of things like scales, containers, bags, or anything else that could be used to transport or sell a controlled substance.
State-level charges for possession with intent to distribute are all considered felonies and will be punishable with mandatory minimum sentences. The shortest mandatory minimum sentence— Class E felony charges for certain schedule V and VI drugs—is a year. At the other end of the spectrum, the longest mandatory minimum sentence—for charges involving Class A felonies—is 15 years. As life changing as any of these mandatory minimum sentences can be, it is worth noting that they are just minimum sentences and that you could be given a longer sentence. At most, it is possible to be sentenced to 60 years in prison with a Class A felony conviction.
Unlike the state system, many federal charges for possession with the intent to distribute can be punished by life sentences. As unlikely as it may be to actually get a life sentence in some cases, the fact that it is even within the realm of possibility should motivate you to do everything you can to protect yourself during the coming legal process. Aside from the prison terms that can be handed down in some cases, the federal courts have the power to level multi-million dollar fines against you if you are convicted. When these charges are considered to be second or even third offenses, their potential penalties are significantly increased; in fact, every third offense on these charges is punishable only by a life sentence.
Sale of a Controlled Substance
Charges alleging the sale of a controlled substance will almost always be pursued as felonies at the state level and will always be pursued as felonies at the federal level. At the state level, the alleged sale of less than half an ounce of marijuana will only be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. At both the state and federal levels, this offense can be enhanced if the alleged recipient of the controlled substance was younger than 18 or if the sale took place within certain distances of a school, daycare, or other youth-focused centers.
Unlike possession with intent charges, it will be up to the authorities to prove that you were actually connected to the sale of a controlled substance. Generally, that means that the authorities will need to demonstrate that money changed hands in exchange for a controlled substance. To gather that kind of evidence, officers may go undercover in order to purchase controlled substances from individuals suspected of selling a controlled substance.
As devastating as the potential penalties of a conviction at the state level can be for the sale of a controlled substance—certain cases may be prosecuted as Class A felonies—those at the federal level allow for the possibility of a life sentence. So, though the potential consequences of a conviction may feel overwhelming, it will be critical to your defense that you reach out to an attorney as soon after your arrest as you are able.
Though drug manufacturing charges are most closely associated with synthetic drugs like meth, it is possible to be charged with drug manufacturing for naturally occurring drugs like marijuana. In order to be convicted for the manufacture of a controlled substance, law enforcement typically needs to prove that you possessed the requisite materials to manufacture the controlled substance and that you intended to actually manufacture the controlled substance. For instance, it would probably not be enough for a person to be caught with pseudoephedrine to be charged with drug manufacturing. However, if police officers also found the kind of lab equipment necessary to create methamphetamine, there is a good chance that drug manufacturing charges will be filed in response.
Like other offenses that fall under the sentencing guidelines set by drug trafficking laws, drug manufacturing allegations will always be prosecuted as felonies at the state and federal levels. As such, there will always be mandatory minimum sentences for people who are convicted in Tennessee and there will always be the threat of a life sentence for people who are convicted with certain charges in the federal courts. Under both circumstances, prosecutors are likely to pursue the harshest possible penalties that are available by law, particularly if it is alleged that meth was being manufactured.
As an umbrella term that comprises the manufacture, delivery, possession with intent, and sale of all controlled substances, drug trafficking allegations may be prosecuted as anything from Class E to Class A felonies at the state level. Since all state felonies in Tennessee carry mandatory minimum prison sentences, you will need to do everything you can to protect yourself from the consequences of a conviction. When the federal government assumes control of these cases, certain charges can be punished with life sentences.
Though federal authorities are more likely to assume drug trafficking cases that are alleged to have crossed state lines, the reality is that the federal courts can and will prosecute any case they feel is serious enough to warrant their interest. However, these cases can also shift to the federal court system for no other reason than the arrest was made by a federal officer, including park rangers at any national park in the state. That being said, it is conceivable that a person could be arrested on drug trafficking charges for possessing what the authorities believe to be an excessive amount of any controlled substance, including marijuana, while camping on federal property.
Conspiracy laws at the state and federal levels are intentionally broad in their definition, which allows law enforcement to apply them to virtually any drug case with relative ease. Under these laws, all the authorities need to prove is that two or more people intended to break any drug law, regardless as to whether the alleged criminal act actually took place. Though conspiracy charges can be prosecuted at the state level, they are often handed off to federal authorities that usually possess far greater resources to prosecute these cases.
As a result of the way these charges can work, it is possible that people who have never met, and who are unaware that they may have broken the law, to be pulled into a drug conspiracy case. In some circumstances, the only thing that the authorities may be alleging is that a suspect engaged in a conversation about selling controlled substances. Regardless of such an individual’s alleged involvement in the underlying charges—the sale of a controlled substance—conspiracy laws can be used to prosecute everyone thought be associated with the alleged offense with the same charge.
Consult with a Nashville Attorney about State and Federal Drug Crimes
If you or someone you love has been arrested and charged with a state or federal drug crime, you should reach out to Horst Law immediately. It will be critical that you not speak with any law enforcement officials about your case before you retain legal counsel from an experienced defense attorney. To speak with a state and federal drug crimes attorney in Nashville about the particulars of your charges, please call our offices at (615) 403-2971 today.