Maybe you decided to experiment at a party. Or you just needed something to help you relax. Perhaps you needed extra cash to help make ends meet, so you started selling drugs for a guy you know. Maybe you were arrested, and the drugs that were found did not belong to you.
How drugs found their way into your life ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is what could happen to you if law enforcement (state police, sheriff’s department, DEA, and/or federal agents) arrests you because of the connection they think you have to illegal drugs.
You may believe that being charged with a drug crime in South Carolina means the state of SC will be prosecuting your case. Well, that’s not always true. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, you can be charged with a federal drug crime within the state of SC.
Being accused of a federal drug charge is serious business. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will be prosecuting your case. Even if you are arrested by law enforcement other than federal agents, your case may go federal. For example, if there is a large enough quantity of drugs, guns and/or cash seized by state, town or county police/sheriff’s department, your case can be turned over to the US Attorney’s Office. Then your case will proceed to federal court. The penalties tend to be more severe, from larger fines to mandatory minimum sentences.
If you’ve been charged with a federal drug crime in South Carolina, your top priority should be finding an experienced criminal defense attorney. He or she can help protect your rights, work hard to obtain all the evidence against you, and also answer your questions.
You most likely have many questions if you have been charged with a federal drug charge. Here are a few common questions that I’ve heard from clients about their federal drug charges. If your question isn’t on the list feel free to contact me, and we can discuss it.
1. What makes a federal drug charge federal?
Drug cases are generally tried in the State system. When there are large quantities of drugs, the DEA or feds may pick up or adopt your case. If there are several people involved in moving large quantities of drugs, the case could be a federal case.
This type of situation is often referred to by law enforcement as a “conspiracy”. It is not necessary for members of the conspiracy to have met each other or even know all members of the conspiracy. What matters to law enforcement is the members of the conspiracy were working together for the same motive: to move drugs in large quantities and buy/sell them. In this entire blog article, “drugs” can be illegal drugs, or legal drugs for which you do not have a valid, current prescription.
Finally, a drug case can be a federal case if there are guns and large amounts of drugs and/or money found by law enforcement. It is common for law enforcement to take possession (called a forfeiture) of property or money they believe has been used in conjunction with drugs or drug proceeds.
The following are just a few examples of what law enforcement can take during drug raids (keep in mind you may or may not get this property/items back, depending on whether your lawyer can prove the items were not associated with drug activity:
- Cleaning out of bank accounts
- Taking actual cash money
- Taking cars
- Taking private planes
- Taking houses or real property
- TV’s, recreational vehicles, furniture, IPADS, cell phones, and electronic devices
However, a drug charge may become a federal drug charge if:
- You carry drugs
- You are involved in a plan or scheme (conspiracy) to help transport illegal drugs across state lines
- You’re arrested by a federal law enforcement officer (DEA, Homeland Security, FBI, ICE, etc.)
- There’s possession of drugs in large amounts and/or guns, or law enforcement reasonably believes you are currently or have been involved with moving large amounts of drugs
- More than one person is involved in the overall plan (“drug conspiracy”)
- Someone rats you out/snitches to the feds, trying to get rid of their own federal or state criminal charges they may be facing
- State and federal prosecutors decide to make your case federal
2. Is there a difference between federal and state drug charge penalties in SC?
Yes. The penalties for both federal and state drug charges vary depending on specific circumstances, such as a combination of the following:
- Type of drug
- Amount of drug
- Possession of guns/firearms combined with drugs
- Possession of large amounts of cash
- Amount of people involved in transporting the cash, guns and/or drugs
Federal drug crime penalties are much harsher than state penalties. Federal Judges and US Attorneys are subject to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. State prosecutors (District Attorneys/ DA’s or Solicitors) and State Circuit Judges are not subject to the federal sentencing guidelines.
3. How serious are federal drug crimes?
The federal government takes drug crimes very seriously; there’s a reason why it’s called “The War on Drugs.” Drug abuse and drug-related crimes are big public health and safety concerns, which is why it’s so important to get the assistance of a drug crime lawyer early in the process.
4. What are some terms associated with federal drug charges in SC?
- Distribution: illegal sale and/or delivery of drugs
- Trafficking: sale and distribution of a certain amount of drug (this number depends on the type of drug)
- Manufacturing: growing controlled substances–like cannabis–or making controlled substances–like methamphetamine
5. Who enforces federal drug laws?
There are numerous federal agencies that enforce federal drug laws, including but not limited to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Homeland Security. State and local law enforcement also work with the federal agencies. Certain police departments, such as the Town of Summerville Police Department have task force units. These officers have dual jobs as state and federal law enforcement.
6. Who prosecutes federal drug crimes?
Federal drug crimes are usually prosecuted in the United States District Court, District of South Carolina by the United States Attorney’s Office for the area where the crime occurred. In South Carolina, there are different US District Courts according to geographic location.
There are two types of federal judges in the US District Court of SC that preside over Criminal cases: a federal Magistrate Judge and a federal District Court Judge
7. Can a federal drug charge be expunged?
Generally, no. Federal charges cannot be expunged or erased from your criminal record. They unfortunately stay with you long after the criminal process is over. This is another reason why working with an attorney is so important!
There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, there is a Federal Drug Court program. Depending on whether you successfully complete the program, your charges could be reduced or in rare cases, dismissed. There is also a Pre Trial Intervention program in the federal system that is similar to the State of South Carolina’s pretrial intervention program.
8. Can I beat federal drug charges?
Beating federal drug charges can be difficult, but not impossible. The best chance you have is to hire a seasoned drug lawyer who has experience with cases similar to yours.
9. How can federal drug charges be reduced?
Your lawyer and the prosecuting attorney could negotiate a plea deal. That means you would plead guilty to a lesser charge in place of your original offense. Plea deals are often offered in exchange for information that can lead law enforcement to other drug offenders. Other options are the Pre Trial Intervention program, the Federal Drug Court Program (Bridge Program)
10. What is federal drug distribution?
Federal drug distribution is a felony charge. It applies to the act of selling, transporting, or delivering controlled substances, including but not limited to:
- Cocaine Base (“Crack)
- Methamphetamine (Ice)
- Other types of illegal drugs in large quantities (Molly, MDMA, bath salts, etc.)
- Prescription drugs
- Sleeping pills
You could be charged with federal drug distribution if you are found with large amounts of drugs, cash at the time of your arrest. Or, you could be charged with federal drug distribution if you are connected with a group of people who are all involved in the same scheme or plan to move drugs.
11. What is federal drug trafficking?
Similar to drug distribution, federal drug trafficking refers to the sale and distribution of a certain amount of a controlled substance. Trafficking often includes moving controlled substances in and out of the United States or across state lines. You could also be charged with federal drug trafficking if you are found to be in control or possession of a very large amount of drugs. This could be all at one time or over a period of time. Often federal law enforcement investigates for a long period of time before an arrest is made. This period of time could go back several years.
12. What is federal drug manufacturing?
Federal drug manufacturing applies to growing or producing drugs. Manufacturing could range from growing marijuana in your basement or cooking meth in your kitchen to full-scale industrial production of controlled substances.
You could be charged with federal drug manufacturing if you have any of the supplies or chemicals needed to make a particular illegal drug – even if you are not in possession of the drug itself.
13. Is it legal for law enforcement to tap my phones, emails, messages, and forms of communication?
Yes. Even if you have stopped all criminal behavior, you can still be arrested for past crimes for federal drug offenses. There is no statute of limitations in SC for federal drug charges. If law enforcement can prove they have probable cause to obtain a search warrant for your electronic devices, then the feds tapping your phones may be legal.
Having several cell phones does not solve this problem. Destroying or no longer using a phone does not make the records go away that can be made available to law enforcement. Apps designed to “erase” information such as phone numbers and text messages do not stop law enforcement with proper search warrants.
With the proper probable cause and search warrants, police can even track your movements by placing a GPS on your vehicle. Cameras can be affixed to public places such as telephone and utility poles. Privacy settings on social media, online accounts, and phone records do not stop law enforcement from obtaining past records with probable cause and search warrants. All of these things can be done without you evening knowing.
14. Is drug dealing a federal crime?
Yes. “Drug dealing” isn’t the official name of the federal offense. Drug dealing, slingin’ and servin’ in large quantities over a period of time can be a federal offense. Keep in mind merely “cooking” drugs if it is a large enough enterprise can lead to federal offenses. Discussing drug deals over the internet, messaging, texting, or other means of communication is also a federal offense.
15. Can federal drug charges be dropped?
Yes, any criminal charge can potentially be dropped. An experienced criminal defense attorney who has handled federal drug cases previously may be able to advise you of your options. If you are facing federal drug charges, you are no doubt facing quite a bit of prison time, potentially. The decisions you make about who you chose to represent you can be considered an investment if your life, freedom and family are at stake.
Charges may be dropped in some circumstances:
- Weak physical evidence against the accused
- Prosecution’s evidence ruled inadmissible
- Defense lawyers have a strong case that could sway the jury
- Your attorney files and wins a motion to suppress the evidence ceased because of an illegal search and seizure
- Your attorney files and wins a motion to suppress statements you have already made to law enforcement
- New evidence proves the accused is not guilty (example: an alibi)
- Plea deal is struck between the defense attorney and prosecutor to drop certain charges in exchange for something else (You should never plead guilty to something you did not do.)
- Your attorney can discuss your other options. Each case has different defenses with unique circumstances.
16. What are the penalties for federal drug crimes?
The exact penalties for federal drug crimes depend on the particular circumstances of a case. Remember, federal drug crimes potentially carry much heavier penalties than state-level offenses. For example, at the federal level, even first-time offenders can get sentenced to prison for a year or more.
In addition to harsher sentences, the law requires mandatory minimum sentences for some federal drug crimes. If you’re found guilty, you’ll have to serve the mandatory minimum sentence, unless your lawyer can get your sentence lessened by a downward sentencing departure, a variance, or other way.
General penalties for federal drug crimes include:
- Supervised release
17. What is the mandatory minimum for federal drug crimes?
The length of mandatory minimum sentences depends on the details of your case. The DEA divides controlled substances into groups called “schedules” based on how dangerous the drugs are considered.
Mandatory minimums could be one year, five years, 10 years, 20 years or even life in federal prison.
In federal drug cases, mandatory minimum sentences are determined based on a number of factors. Here are a few, but there are many more:
- What kind of drug it was (the “schedule the drug falls into”)
- Was there a gun involved?
- Was anyone harmed or injured during the commission of the crime?
- The quantity of the drug
- Number of previous drug convictions
- Prior Criminal History (including arrests and convictions)
- Whether you are classified as an Armed Career Criminal
- Whether you are classified as a Career Offender
- Was there hazardous waste cleanup involved (usually meth cases)
- How many people were involved in this case?
- Were there any people affected by your case that involve, harm or were performed in the presence of minors?
If you’ve been arrested on federal drug charges in South Carolina, don’t wait to see what happens. Put yourself in the best position to beat your drug charges.
The “War on Drugs” in America is going strong. If you are facing federal drug charges in SC and have questions about your case, consider contacting an attorney. It could make all the difference.
You can contact me today to discuss your case. Call 843-607-9800 now to speak to me about your case.
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