If you’re caught possessing, selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs, you might be subject to federal drug charges. If it has been years since your offense, you might be wondering — how long do police have to file drug charges? Is there a statute of limitations on drug charges?
Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to the statute of limitations for drug crimes.
Federal Drug Conspiracy: The Basics
While each state has its own drug conspiracy laws, crimes against the United States are viewed under 21 U.S.C Section 846, Attempt and Conspiracy. When dealing with federal drug crimes, a crime may be classified as federal based on the type of drug (for example, cocaine versus fentanyl), its quantity, and whether the actors involved crossed state borders.
Now that you understand what a federal drug crime is, what is a federal drug conspiracy? Technically, a federal drug conspiracy means two or more individuals agreed together to break federal drug laws.
The key components of a federal drug conspiracy charge are that the accused agreed to the distribution of an illegal substance, were aware that their actions were illegal, and chose to move forward anyway in furtherance of their conspiracy.
Under federal drug conspiracy charges, participants can be found guilty even for knowing about a plan to break federal narcotics laws. These laws can be prosecution-favoring laws that are part of the ongoing ‘war on drugs,’
Under such strict statutes, any involvement can be seen as conspiracy. In fact, the drugs don’t even have to exist, and many accused persons have gone to jail due to sting operations involving fake drugs, and sometimes no drugs at all.
Federal Drug Conspiracy Punishment
Punishment for federal drug conspiracy depends on the type and quantity of the drug, the extent of interstate activity, and how each element of the conspiracy was carried out. Under felony drug charges, the accused can face a sentence of ten years to life in prison for federal drug conspiracy, which involves:
- 1,000 kg or more marijuana
- 50 g or more methamphetamine
- 1 kg or more heroin
- 10 g or more LSD
- 5 kg or more cocaine
If the amounts are lower, the sentences will also be less severe. For example, five to forty years can be imposed for:
- 100 kg or more marijuana
- 5 g or more methamphetamine
- 100 g or more heroin
- 1 g or more LSD
- 500 g or more cocaine
Additionally, with federal drug conspiracy convictions, other punishments may be imposed, including forfeiture or seizure of property. Anytime property is obtained in connection with drugs or purchased with drug money, it is a sure bet that the property will be forfeited and likely auctioned off at public sale.
Interstate Drug Trafficking Penalties
If your charges involve trafficking drugs across state lines, you should not only know the statute of limitations for drug trafficking but also the interstate drug trafficking penalties.
The statute of limitations for drug trafficking is five years. And the interstate drug trafficking penalties can be harsh, such as a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.
How Do Prosecutors Prove the Crime of Federal Drug Conspiracy?
Certain elements have to be proven by the prosecution “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a conviction on federal drug conspiracy charges, and these elements are:
- An agreement between two or more people to commit a federal drug crime
- The accused knew about the conspiracy
- At least one of these people did some overt act to accomplish the crime
The element of agreement does not require that an agreement be formalized or otherwise in writing. Spoken words and even an unspoken agreement or “tacit” agreement between the accused parties may be enough for a conspiracy conviction. This is partly because drug conspiracy charges can be argued based on “circumstantial evidence.” This means, for example, that a participant’s conduct can be classified as evidence on the element of agreement to the conspiracy.
Conspiracy charges are easier than other types of charges to prove, so conspiracy convictions often draw in many defendants. Unfortunately, this leads to today’s federal prisons being filled with people who may have had little or no involvement in the conspiracy — such as someone who shared a house with a drug dealer or who was inadvertently a drug mule while making deliveries.
How Long Do Police Have to File Drug Charges?
Due to legal protections against wrongful incarceration, the determination of how long a person can be held in jail after being arrested on federal drug charges has to be made speedily. Typically, a prosecutor will review the case law enforcement has built and determine whether to officially file charges within three days after an individual is arrested or the police must release the person from their custody.
Federal Drug Conspiracy Defenses
Although drug conspiracy is easier to prove than other drug crimes, the prosecution still has to prove involvement at the criminal evidence standard beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, a skilled criminal defense attorney will focus mainly on casting doubt on the elements of the crime.
When looking at a drug conspiracy charge, attorneys will look at various factors, particularly the quantity and type of drug involved. They will also try to map out the origin and movement of the drug in question to show that the defendant was never involved. These can be called the factual defenses to federal drug conspiracy charges.
An experienced defense attorney will know to look to the legal defenses as well as the factual ones. For these, attorneys will try to prove that the evidence collected in the drug case — including tangible evidence like drugs and currency and intangible evidence like testimony — was obtained illegally.
Defense attorneys may defend a federal drug conspiracy case on the grounds that an arresting officer didn’t have enough reason to stop a vehicle or that consent wasn’t given to search a vehicle or a home, all of which violate the U.S. Constitutional protections in the 4th Amendment.
In addition, sometimes confessions can be voided if obtained wrongfully in violation of the 5th Amendment. Other times, a violation of Miranda rights will lead to the dismissal of charges.
Is There a Statute of Limitations on Drug Charges?
The statute of limitations for drug conspiracy charges varies state by state. However, under the federal drug conspiracy law of 21 U.S.C. Section 846, the government must bring drug charges within five years of committing the crime.
For federal drug conspiracy charges, this is determined as the date of the last time the accused had any involvement with the conspiracy — which could extend for a long time as it is furthered by various acts and actors, for instance, in what is sometimes called a drug ring, which can last for years.
Seek Legal Guidance from a Federal Drug Conspiracy Lawyer
Attorney Seth Kretzer is highly skilled and experienced with federal drug conspiracy, the statute of limitations on drug charges, if you can be charged for selling drugs in the past, and more. Need legal help? We can answer your questions and help you with your legal needs.