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Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Drugs

United States Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Offenses

In an effort to combat the widespread problem of drug crimes, the federal government maintains strict guidelines that dictate the manner in which these crimes are punished. These sentencing guidelines classify legal penalties for drug crimes in several ways.

First, the guidelines assign punishments based on the type of drugs involved in a particular case. Next, the amount of seized drugs is considered when assigning a sentence. Finally, other factors in the case, such as firearms possession or a previous criminal record, may play a role in the sentencing decision.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Federal court sentencing guidelines for drug convictions are distinctly different from the federal mandatory minimum sentences used in many drug cases. One of the most notable differences between these two systems is the consideration of mitigating factors by the judge presiding over a drug case.

For example, a drug crime conviction that meets the requirements for a mandatory minimum sentence will rarely allow the judge to consider potentially relevant facts about the case. Some of these facts can include the role that the defendant played in the crime and how likely the defendant is to commit similar crimes in the future.

The guidelines established by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) allow the judge to consider mitigating factors in the case. These factors mean that the judge may issue a sentence of incarceration between a “range” of appropriate time, such as 12 to 24 months, rather than a mandatory minimum of five years.

Penalties for Federal Drug Crimes

Mandatory minimum sentences are usually much more severe than sentences that are assigned according to federal sentencing guidelines. Examples of both types of punishments for drug possession may include:

  • Possession of five grams of pure methamphetamine carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without the possibility of parole. The possession of an amount that is less than the requirement for a mandatory minimum sentence can range from a few months to several years, depending on the facts in the case.
  • Possession of 100 grams of heroin is punished by a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Trafficking between 100 and 999 grams of heroin for the first time is punishable by no less than five years and no more than 40 years.

In general, there are two ways to avoid mandatory minimum sentences. If a drug crimes attorney can arrange for a defendant to provide substantial information about other criminal activity to the court, the mandatory minimum sentence may be avoided. If a defendant’s attorney can show the judge that their client is a nonviolent, first-time offender, the judge may choose to not impose the mandatory minimum sentence.

Talk to a Federal Drug Lawyer

To learn more about the federal sentencing guidelines for drugs, arrange for an appointment with Rand Mintzer by calling 713-862-8880.