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Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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When Chicago Drug Trafficking Becomes a Federal Offense

Drug crimes are some of the most common federal offenses. The “War on Drugs” has resulted in a higher incarceration rate than the world has ever seen before, and a large proportion of current inmates in federal correctional facilities are there for drug-related offenses.

 

One of the most serious federal drug offenses? Drug trafficking.

 

If you are charged with drug trafficking at the federal level, it comes with incredibly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences, among other penalties.

 

Not all drug trafficking cases are tried at that federal level, though. So how do law enforcement officials determine whether a trafficking case should be a state or federal matter?

 

What Makes Drug Trafficking a Federal Offense?

 

Here’s the real – and very unhelpful – answer: federal courts pick up cases involving federal offenses at their discretion.

 

In other words, as long as an act is in the books as a federal crime (and just about all drug crimes are), the case can be tried at the federal level. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a minor possession charge or a large-scale drug trafficking case.

 

Thankfully, that’s not the way it works in practice – at least not most of the time. The federal government is usually only interested in big cases or cases that involve multiple states or even countries.

 

So, if a drug crime crosses state lines, it’s more likely to end up in federal court. Ditto drug trafficking cases where a large amount of substances is involved, where the drug trafficking ring involves an extensive network of individuals, or if substances of special interest, such as opiates, are involved.

Federal Drug Trafficking Prison sentences

 

There’s a reason everyone is afraid for the feds to get involved. Federal courts are notorious for stringent investigations and harsh sentencing, including strictly enforced mandatory minimums for even first-time offenders.

 

Like most drug crimes, federal drug trafficking sentencing depends upon the type and amount of substance, and whether serious bodily harm or death occurred as a result of the offense.

 

Heroin and Fentanyl

The United States is in the midst of an opiate crisis, with over 15,000 overdose deaths occurring annually due to heroin alone. Because of this, you can expect for the feds to be much more likely to pick up any case involving heroin trafficking.

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 100-999 grams of heroin or 40-399 grams of fentanyl are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 5-40 years
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense, no bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 1 kilogram or more of heroin or 400 grams or more of fentanyl are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second offense, no bodily injury: 20 years-life
  • Second offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life
  • Third offense regardless of bodily injury: Life

 

Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant with serious potential for abuse. Most cocaine is produced in South America, and is trafficked to the US via large drug trafficking rings and cartels. You can therefore expect for the feds to pay close attention to any cocaine trafficking case.

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 500-4999 grams of cocaine, or 5-49 grams of cocaine base are as follows:

 

, When Chicago Drug Trafficking Becomes a Federal Offense

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 5-40 years
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense, no bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking five kilograms or more of cocaine or 50 grams or more of cocaine base are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second offense, no bodily injury: 20 years-life
  • Second offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life
  • Third offense regardless of bodily injury: Life

 

Methamphetamines

Methamphetamines are powerful stimulants with high potential for abuse. Methamphetamine is relatively easy and cheap to produce, and is a common drug of abuse in the Midwest, including in Illinois.

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 5-49 grams of pure methamphetamine or 40-499 grams of a methamphetamine mixture are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 5-40 years
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense, no bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 50 grams or more of pure methamphetamine or 500 grams or more of a methamphetamine mixture are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no serious bodily injury: 10 years-life
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second offense, no bodily injury: 20 years-life
  • Second offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life
  • Third offense regardless of bodily injury: Life

 

Marijuana

Marijuana laws have been relaxed substantially in many liberal states, with some states fully legalizing recreational use. However, marijuana remains illegal both federally and in the state of Illinois.

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 50-99 marijuana plants, 50-99 kilograms marijuana or more than one kilogram of hash oil are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no injury: Up to 20 years
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense with no injury: Up to 30 years
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 100-999 kg of marijuana or 100-999 marijuana plants are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no injury: 5-40 years
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense, no injury: 10 years-life
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

 

Federal prison sentences for trafficking 1000 kg or more of marijuana or 1000 or more marijuana plants are as follows:

 

  • First offense, no injury: 10 years-life
  • First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense, no injury: 20 years-life
  • Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life

Facing Drug Trafficking Charges in Illinois?

 

, When Chicago Drug Trafficking Becomes a Federal Offense

If you are facing drug trafficking charges, it is imperative to take this matter very seriously — failure to do so could result in decades or even a lifetime in prison, not to mention enormous fines. To fight drug trafficking charges, you must retain a skilled Illinois criminal defense lawyer.

 

Regardless of whether your case is tried at a state or federal level, a good defense attorney will leverage his or her knowledge and experience to reach the best possible outcome in your case.

 

 

 

About the Author:

Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.

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