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Massachusetts Federal Drug Charges

You do not need to fight Massachusetts federal drug trafficking charges alone.  Our highly skilled Boston Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys at the Marin, Barrett, and Murphy Law Firm can provide skilled legal representation to individuals facing drug charges in Massachusetts including federal drug distribution and trafficking in Boston.  There are time tested and proven defenses and strategies to fight MA federal drug charges that can help you.

If you have been arrested or indicted in Massachusetts on drug charges, it is important to seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible.  Our experienced MA federal criminal defense attorneys will meet with you and confidentially discuss the facts of your drug case, any legal or constitutional defenses you may have and your best strategy going forward.  We have handled many similar cases and can put our experience and knowledge to work for you right away.

Massachusetts Federal Drug Lawyers
Marin, Barrett, and Murphy Law Firm
Contact Us Today to Start Fighting Back - Available 24/7 at 857-229-2442

What constitutes drug trafficking under federal law?

There are five types of Massachusetts drug crimes associated with drug trafficking under federal law.  These are manufacturing, distributing, possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute the controlled substance, importing a controlled substance, and conspiracy.  Specifically, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1841, it is a crime to knowingly or intentionally, manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance.  Under Section 18 U.S.C. Section 952, it is a crime to import controlled substances into the United States.

It is also a crime to knowingly or intentionally create, distribute, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.   This last provision simply means that it is a crime to create/distribute/possess with intent to distribute or dispense synthetic or fake prescription drugs.

What are the different types of controlled substances?

Controlled substances (i.e. drugs) are substances classified by the federal government that are controlled – which means the use and distribution of these substances are governed by law (Controlled Substance Act).  The controlled substances are classified at different levels or schedules, which include:

  • Schedule I – these substances/drugs are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Examples are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana*, ecstasy
  • Schedule II – these substances are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples are: cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin), Adderall, Ritalin, and hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Schedule III – these substances are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Examples are: ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and Tylenol with codeine
  • Schedule IV – these substances are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Some examples are: Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Tramadol, and Ativan
  • Schedule V – these substances are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and may contain limited quantities of certain narcotics. These drugs are typically used for analgesic purposes.  Some examples are Robitussin AC, Lyrica, Lomotil, and Parapectolin 

What is federal conspiracy to drug traffic?

A conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime.  To prove that an individual conspired to distribute drugs under 21 U.S.C. Section 846, the government must prove: (1) that there was a conspiracy, i.e., an agreement to manufacture/distribute the drugs; (2) that the individual knew of the conspiracy; and (3) that the individual intentionally joined the conspiracy. 

The existence of the conspiracy need not be shown by written agreement or any other form of direct evidence, but may be inferred from the circumstances. Moreover, each of the conspirators need not be fully aware of the roles or activities of all of the other conspirators.  Each conspirator, however, is responsible for the “foreseeable offenses” committed in furtherance of the drug trafficking scheme.

Although it technically demonstrates an agreement to distribute a controlled substance, proof of a small, one-time sale of a controlled substance is ordinarily not considered sufficient for a conspiracy conviction.  The factors that demonstrate a individual was part of a conspiracy rather than in a mere buyer/seller relationship with that conspiracy include: (1) the length of affiliation between the individual and the conspiracy; (2) whether there is an established payment arrangement; (3) the extent to which drug transactions are standardized; (4) whether the transactions involved large amounts of drugs; and (5) whether the defendant purchased the drugs on “credit”.

What is the difference between federal charges for drug trafficking and Massachusetts State charges for drug trafficking?

Similar to federal drug trafficking laws, all fifty states have laws against drug trafficking.  In the State of Massachusetts, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 96C makes it unlawful to manufacture, deliver, or possess with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance. Chapter 96C closely mirrors the federal drug trafficking statute (18 U.S.C. Section 1841)

The major difference between Massachusetts federal drug trafficking laws and Massachusetts State drug trafficking laws are the penalties for violating the respective statute.  The maximum penalties are more severe for federal drug trafficking as opposed to the maximum penalties for MA State drug trafficking. 

It is also important to note that while marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, it nevertheless remains a Schedule I drug pursuant to the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Why are some prosecutions for drug trafficking conducted by the State of Massachusetts versus Boston federal prosecutions?

Most often, criminal investigations of drug trafficking begin at the state or local level.  If the local MA police department for the local municipality conducts an investigation and makes an arrest it is likely the that arrest will result in MA State criminal charges.  However, if the drug trafficking crosses state lines (multi-jurisdictions) and/or the investigation is being conducted by federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, then there is a high probability that the resulting prosecution will be on the federal level.  The amount of controlled substances may also dictate whether the case is prosecuted by the MA state authorities or the federal authorities. 

Can you go to jail for federal drug trafficking?

Yes.  Unlike state courts where prison is seldom part of a sentence, prosecution by Department of Justice attorneys routinely results in prison sentences for persons convicted of drug trafficking in Massachusetts. 

How does the Government prove the different types of federal drug trafficking?

The US Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual: 1) knowingly or intentionally; 2) manufactured, distributed, or dispensed; 3) a controlled substance. 

To prove possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance, the first element the government must prove is the drugs/substances must be within one's control (in your house or your automobile).  Generally speaking, to have possession you must know the drugs are present.  If you had absolutely no idea that the cocaine or heroin was there that presents a strong defense. 

The second element the government must prove is that the person possessing the drugs planned/intended to sell them.  This is an assumption that is made when the quantity or amount is too large to be considered for personal use.  Other indicators of intent to sell/distribute are the presence of large denominations of money, packaging materials, and communications from would be customers.

Is federal drug trafficking a felony?

Yes, the intentional or knowing manufacture, distribution, dispense, or possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, or possess a controlled substance is a felony offense, punishable by more than one year in prison.

How long do you go to jail for federal drug trafficking?

Any violation of federal drug trafficking is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face severe statutory penalties.  For example, a few federal penalties for manufacturing or distribution include:

  • 10 years to life in prison for 1 kilogram of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana
  • 5 years to 40 years for 100 grams of heroin, or 500 grams of cocaine
  • Not more than 5 years for 50 kilograms of marijuana

These are just examples of some of the maximum penalties for drug trafficking.  Sentencing for drug trafficking depends on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  Meaning, the length of imprisonment or supervised release and monetary fines depends on the type of controlled substance involved, the quantity, and the criminal history of the individual charged.  Upon conviction of a drug trafficking charge a judge will refer to the Sentencing Guidelines in fashioning/imposing a sentence.

What is important to note is that some drug trafficking offenses have mandatory minimum prison sentences.  These mandatory minimum sentences range from mandatory five years imprisonment to mandatory life imprisonment.  These ranges are due to the quantity/amount of the controlled substance, whether death or serious injury results, whether there were prior drug felony convictions, and whether there were prior drug convictions resulting in death or serious injury (or whether there are two or more drug felony convictions).

How long do you go to jail for conspiracy to drug trafficking?

The penalties for conspiracy to traffic drugs are the same as the penalties for the actual prescribed for the offense(s).   The conspiracy statute is U.S.C. Section 846.

What is the safety valve?  Am I eligible for the safety valve?

As previously stated, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines requires a sentencing judge to impose a minimum sentence of imprisonment following conviction for any of a number of federal offenses.  However, there are three exceptions in which a judge can deviate and go below the mandatory minimum sentence.  Two are available in any case where the prosecutor asserts that the defendant has provided substantial assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of another. The other, commonly referred to as the safety valve, is available, without the government's approval, for a handful of the more commonly prosecuted drug trafficking and unlawful possession offenses that carry minimum sentences.

Qualification for the substantial assistance exceptions is ordinarily only possible upon the prosecuting attorney requesting a “downward departure”.  In rare cases, the court may compel the government to file such a motion for a downward departure when the defendant can establish that the refusal to do so was based on constitutionally invalid considerations, or was in derogation of a plea bargain obligation or was the product of bad faith on the behalf of the prosecuting attorney.

Qualification for the safety valve requires a defendant to satisfy five criteria. His past criminal record must be minimal; he must not have been a leader, organizer, or supervisor in the commission of the offense; he must not have used violence in the commission of the offense, and the offense must not have resulted in serious injury; and prior to sentencing, he must tell the government all that he knows of the offense and any related misconduct.

What can a skilled Massachusetts Federal Drug Lawyer do for you?

There are defense and strategies to drug trafficking case.  In fact, a skilled Boston federal criminal defense attorney can raise the defense of lack of knowledge (perhaps the defendant did not knowingly possess the drugs); insufficient evidence (perhaps there is insufficient evidence to establish distribution); or perhaps the timing between the possession and the intent to distribute is such that a connection cannot be made beyond a reasonable doubt.  Alternatively, you may be eligible for the safety valve to go below a mandatory minimum sentence.

If you have been arrested or indicted anywhere in Massachusetts for federal drug trafficking, it is important to seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible.  Our experienced federal defense attorneys will meet with you and confidentially discuss the facts of your case, any legal or constitutional defenses you may have and your best strategy going forward.  We have handled numerous cases and can put our experience and knowledge to work for you right away.  We are available 24/7 at 857-229-2442.

Kensley Barrett

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