FEDERAL DRUG CHARGES IN LAS VEGAS
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CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS WITH EXPERIENCE IN FEDERAL COURT
A Federal drug charge is perhaps the most serious drug charge a person can face in Las Vegas. Sweeping drug crime legislation took effect decades ago which imposed mandatory minimum sentences for persons convicted of many common federal drug crimes. For example, many federal drug crimes carry a minimum of 5 or sometimes 10 years in federal prison. Perhaps the most common drug charge brought in Las Vegas federal court is possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (federal drug charges which involve cocaine, or MDMA / ecstasy are also common).
The charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine requires the government to prove:
- The defendant was in possession of methamphetamine
- The defendant either knew he or she was, or intended to be in possession of methamphetamine
- The defendant intended to distribute some or all of the methamphetamine to another person
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IMPORTANCE OF AMOUNT OF DRUGS IN FEDERAL DRUG CHARGES CASES
The amount of the illegal drug involved in a federal drug case may play a crucial role at time of sentencing, so it is important that the jury make a specific finding as to the amount of the illegal substance. In cases involving a federal drug charge, the sentencing guidelines increase the potential range of incarceration based on the amount of illegal drugs recovered in a case. Las Vegas is within the jurisdiction of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit requires that where the amount of drugs in a federal drug case “increases the prescribed statutory maximum penalty to which a criminal defendant is exposed,” the amount of drugs must be decided by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, when applicable, this is treated as an additional element. A jury must unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt as to the amount of illegal drugs associated with these charges.
CONSPIRACY TO DISTRIBUTE OR MANUFACTURE ILLEGAL DRUGS
Another very common charge brought in Las Vegas federal court is conspiracy to distribute or manufacture. Again, most often this drug charge usually involves methamphetamine, but conspiracy to distribute or manufacture cases involving cocaine are also common. A conspiracy to distribute or manufacture case involving methamphetamine requires the government to prove:
- That during a certain time period (the government will allege certain dates), there was an agreement between two or more persons to either distribute or manufacture methamphetamine.
- The defendant joined in the agreement knowing of its purpose and intending to help accomplish that purpose.
In essence, this federal drug charge requires the government to prove that the conspirators met, discussed matters of common interest and helped one another with the intent to either distribute or manufacture a controlled substance.
BURDEN OF PROOF AND EVIDENTIARY ISSUES
The prosecution bears the burden of proving this and all other federal drug crimes. This means that the prosecution must prove every element of the federal drug charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Federal criminal law allows the prosecution to meet this burden in various ways. Permissible forms of evidence which the jury may consider include both direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is proof of a fact, such as testimony of an eyewitness. Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence, that is, proof of a chain of facts from which one could find that another fact exists.
PROSECUTORIAL USE OF INFORMANTS
Many times, in part, prosecutors seek to prove a federal drug charge by using informants. The widespread use of informants in federal drug cases is fairly controversial. Frequently, federal drug case informants are drug users who are also addicts with lengthy criminal records. Often informants become nightmares for their law enforcement handlers as well. Many a career has been ruined by failure to properly manage a case informant. When defending a client against federal drug charges, in a federal drug case, a conscientious criminal defense lawyer will always seek to obtain a copy of the informant file maintained by law enforcement. Obtaining the information contained in the informant file is often the make or break issue in the case. It inevitably involves a lengthy battle. To say that the prosecution hates disclosing the contents of an informants file is an understatement.
An informant file typically includes a goldmine of information. Generally, a copy of the informant’s agreement to work for the government, his or her criminal history, the amount of money the government has paid in exchange for cooperation, and what he or she can expect to happen with their own criminal cases when sentenced in return for cooperation. Given the overwhelming presence of informant’s in cases which include a federal drug charge, it is always necessary to do everything possible to obtain these files. Having this critical information can enable our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers to destroy an informant on cross-examination in front of the jury.
FEDERAL DRUG CHARGES REQUIRE STRONG, TENACIOUS REPRESENTATION
Federal drug charges are complex and carry severe consequences if convicted. Our criminal defense lawyers at Oronoz & Ericsson have extensive experience successfully defending federal drug charges. When you or a loved one is charged with a drug crime in Las Vegas federal court, do not risk having an amateur handle your case. Hire a trusted firm. We have a proven track record of success defending federal drug charges.