I Was Caught Smuggling Drugs – Will I Go to Federal Prison?

A hand holding pills

Since the "War on Drugs" began back in the 1970s, penalties for drugs crimes throughout the United State have steadily increased in severity. In addition, federal authorities have focused a tremendous amount of manpower and funds trying to combat the influx of drugs pouring over the nation's borders every year. If you were caught smuggling drugs you are undoubtedly worried about the outcome of your case. Specifically, you are probably worried about ending up in federal prison. Because of the unique facts and circumstances surrounding every drug trafficking prosecution you should consult with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney about your specific case; however, a broad understanding of federal drug laws and penalties for a conviction may also be helpful.

First, some basic knowledge about the judicial system in the U.S. is essential. The United States operates under a federalist form of government. As such, we have a central government (the federal government) and numerous smaller localized governments (the states). Both the federal government and the individual states, in this case the State of New York, have the ability to promulgate laws and enforce those laws. Therefore, you could be indicted by the state, the federal government, or both for drug trafficking. As a general rule, however, large drug smuggling operations are investigated and prosecuted by the federal government. It is for this reason that people fear being sent to federal prison if they are caught smuggling drugs.

The potential penalties you face if convicted of drug trafficking at the federal level depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Type of drug - the higher the quantity and/or the more pure the drugs, the more serious the potential punishment and sentence will be if convicted.
  • Your criminal history - you face an increased penalty range if you have any previous criminal history and/or if you have a previous conviction for a similar offense. For a second offense, for instance, the minimum term of incarceration is typically doubled.
  • Aggravating or mitigating factors - federal sentences are determined with the help of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Though advisory in nature, most judges stay within the Guideline sentencing range unless there are mitigating or aggravating factors that warrant a deviation.

Drug smuggling is a serious offense in the eyes of the U.S. government regardless of the circumstances. Knowing the potential penalties you face in your specific case is imperative and should prompt you to consult with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney right away. There are a number of commonly used defenses to drug smuggling charges that could keep you out of federal prison; however, you need a skilled attorney on your side to exert one or more of those defenses.