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Don't sell yourself short when it comes to federal drug charges

Make no mistake, there's a difference between facing state drug charges and federal drug charges. Federal courts have their own rules and laws. In addition, Congress created mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of drug crimes.

For example, if federal authorities accuse you of possessing 28 grams of crack cocaine with the intent to sell it, and if convicted, the mandatory sentencing guidelines require that you receive a sentence of no less than five years in a federal prison regardless of the circumstances. This normally happens even if your role in the crime does not warrant this harsh of a sentence.

Do I have to serve the mandatory minimum if I'm convicted?

At some point, Congress realized that some people ended up serving sentences unjustly. In 1994, it created a "safety valve" for those upon whom imposing the minimum sentence is not appropriate. Safety valves allow the court to impose a sentence less than the mandatory minimum if you meet certain requirements.

Do I qualify for the safety valve?

Congress meant for the court to strictly adhere to the five-part test. This means that you must meet all five requirements in order to qualify for lesser sentencing than the mandatory minimum. Those requirements are as follows:

  • You have negligible or no criminal history.
  • You didn't use a gun or violence.
  • No one was hurt during the incident.
  • You didn't organize the incident or lead it.
  • You told prosecutors everything you know.

Meeting these qualifications doesn't preclude you from serving time, but it could keep you from spending the mandatory minimum in prison. The safety valve makes your sentence, if convicted of the charges you face, more fair and reasonable.

Not every person charged with federal drug crimes deserves to spend the mandatory minimum sentence in prison. For instance, a first-time offender does not necessarily deserve to spend the same amount of time in prison as the leader of a drug organization. Since the implementation of the safety valve, approximately 80,000 people have benefited from it, which equates to around 23 percent of those convicted of federal drug crimes.

Help with federal drug crimes

Because the federal court system often differs from the Kansas court system, it would benefit you to enlist the help of an attorney who routinely handles cases involving federal drug crimes. Furthermore, such an advocate would more than likely be familiar with the federal safety valve and could present evidence to the court that you qualify for it, which could reduce the time you may spend in prison if convicted.

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