Federal penalties for drug offenses are harsh

Along with authorities working for the State of Texas, the federal government often pursues those whom officials believe have broken federal drug laws.

Federal investigators and prosecutors will charge these federal crimes in one of the several United States District Courts located in Texas. These courts operate differently than the Texas courts and, as such, have their own procedures and rules.

One of the big differences between the courts is in terms of sentencing, since federal sentencing rules apply in federal cases. The end result of using the federal rules is too often a harsh sentence for drug offenders.

In particular, federal drug trafficking offenses are subject to stringent mandatory minimum sentences.

Provided a person does not qualify for a special exemption, distributing a certain quantity of common street drugs, like cocaine and heroin, will result in at least a 5-year prison sentence and a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

If even higher quantities are involved, a life term is possible, and the mandatory minimum is 10 years.

When other aggravating factors, like a prior criminal history, are present, the mandatory minimum can be higher than for, say, a first-time offender.

The scary feature about these mandatory minimums is that they can apply to every member of a group accused of trafficking drugs, no matter what the role of each member was.

For example, even a person accused of serving as a lookout or playing another minor role in a drug enterprise can face a mandatory minimum if the enterprise is large enough.

Despite efforts in recent years to relax federal penalties for drug trafficking somewhat, they remain harsh in several respects.  A San Antonio resident facing a federal drug charge should evaluate his or her options carefully.

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