Federal Drug Conspiracies
There are three dangerous things about a federal drug conspiracy.
Picture a rock of crack cocaine in a pipe in Atlanta.
The guy who’s about to smoke it bought it from another guy on the street, who bought a couple grams from a midlevel dealer, who bought a couple ounces of powder and cooked it up in his microwave oven.
The guy who sold him the ounces bought half a kilo from a guy, then cut it before bagging it into ounces.
The guy who sold him the half-key made six kilos by cutting three kilos he’d gotten from another guy, who’d sent a driver to drop off the kilos in a Wal Mart parking lot in Atlanta.
The three kilos were part of sixty kilos that that guy had made by cutting 30 kilos he’d bought from a guy in Monterrey. He never saw or even talked to the guy in Monterrey, but the guy in Monterrey arranged for the 30 kilos to be delivered in Houston, using his network of employees and contractors to get the drugs from Mexico to Houston.
The guy in Monterrey has a source in Colombia who is shipping cocaine by the ton, requiring dozens of employees. He gets his cocaine from suppliers who produce cocaine in the jungles of Peru.
All Participants in a Conspiracy
With the exception of the guy with the pipe, every person involved is part of a drug conspiracy that could be prosecuted in federal court in Atlanta. Most of them could be prosecuted in federal court in Houston instead.
A conspiracy, at its simplest, is an agreement to commit a crime. While some types of conspiracies require proof of an “overt act” — something actually done to commit the crime — federal drug conspiracies require no such proof — just proof that there was an agreement.
The guy on the street entered into a conspiracy with the midlevel dealer, who entered into a conspiracy with the guy who sold him the ounces, and so on up the line, but none of them had to possess drugs or do anything at all but agree in order to be held responsible for the conspiracy. This — a crime that can be committed with words alone — is dangerous.
Evidence in a Federal Drug Conspiracy Case
In a drug conspiracy case you can expect the federal government to present wiretap recordings, pole cams, video from helicopters — any sort of evidence that might be developed with technological toys. You can also expect them to present testimony from confidential informants (who helped them build the case). There is so much money involved in the forfeiture side of federal drug prosecutions that the agencies investigating these crimes — primarily the DEA, but also everyone else from the Postal Inspector to the FBI — can afford, and are motivated to buy and use, the latest gizmos.
You can also expect that codefendants will plead guilty and cooperate against each other. This is the second dangerous thing about federal drug conspiracy cases. A conspiracy is by definition never committed by only one person, and whenever two or more people are arrested for a crime they have motivation to help the government make its case against each other.
There are many schools of thought on cooperation, from “Snitches get stitches” to “Do what you have to to get home.” At Bennett & Bennett our philosophy is “We’d rather nobody cooperated against anybody, but it’s for the client to decide.”
Relevant Conduct for Sentencing
The third dangerous thing about a federal drug conspiracy is that everyone convicted of conspiring can be held responsible in sentencing for all of the conspiracy’s reasonably foreseeable crimes. The guy buying grams might be held responsible for ounces; the guy buying ounces might be held responsible for kilos.
Bennett & Bennett have more than twenty years’ experience defending federal drug conspiracies.
Quantity Drives Federal Drug Conspiracy Sentencing
The major driver of sentencing in federal drug cases (including conspiracies) is the quantity of the drugs involved:
|Quantity range (weight of cocaine powder)||Base offense level||Base sentencing range (months)|
|450 or more kilograms||38||235–293 months|
|500 grams – 2 kg||24||51–63|
|Less than 50 g||12||10–16|
“Base sentencing range” is the range of punishment in months for a plain-vanilla first offender: not a minor participant but not a leader; no special skills; no guns; nobody got hurt; didn’t obstruct justice; went to trial and lost. But this table will give you a general idea of how punishment increases with drug quantity: Each higher quantity range of drugs carries about a 25% higher minimum and maximum than the quantity range beneath it. Crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs have different quantity ranges triggering the various base offense levels, but they are proportionate ranges.
Some Other Things Affect Sentences
Sentences are higher for people with criminal history, lower for people who plead guilty and accept responsibility, higher if guns are involved. And remember: each member of the conspiracy can be held responsible for the reasonably foreseeable actions of everyone in the conspiracy. If the guy moving three kilos had a gun in the car, the guy selling them to him might be held responsible for that gun (a two-point offense-level increase).
We Can Help
Our training and experience have prepared us to negotiate the shoals of conspiracy cases. If you or a loved one are accused of participating in a federal drug conspiracy, call on our expertise. Call Bennett & Bennett at 713.224.1747.