Articles Posted in Narcotics and Controlled Substance Offenses

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Federal prosecutors sometimes have a powerful statute to use against drug sellers whose products cause fatal overdoses. Specifically, 21 U.S.C. Section 841 – the most common federal narcotics distribution charge – includes enhanced penalties for situations in which the defendants have sold or distributed narcotics that caused overdose deaths. A charge with no mandatory minimum under normal circumstances might carry a 20-year minimum where it can be proven that the drug that was sold caused someone to die. Some prior felons can also face potential mandatory life sentences for selling narcotics that cause fatalities. Even in a case in which the prosecution may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the narcotics caused a death, the prosecution may be able to secure a very stiff sentence under the federal Sentencing Guidelines, where the evidence proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s product is responsible.

First, the government has to prove that the defendant actually sold drugs to the deceased person. Law enforcement frequently uses text messages and phone records to prove transactions in these cases. Law enforcement also frequently attempts to purchase narcotics themselves (undercover) from the target/suspect. That way, in the very least, the government can prove a charge of 21 U.S.C. Section 841, if not the overdose aspect.

Many drug overdoses are polydrug situations, meaning that the deceased person ingested more than one drug recently. In those cases, it can be more complicated to ascertain the precise “but for” cause of death. Certain drugs may interact with each other in unclear ways, and other drugs may work together in aggregate towards the same toxidrome. It is critical to have the assistance of a toxicological expert and an attorney familiar with some of the issues in overdose analysis. Many if not most of the federal prosecutions in this sphere nowadays involve fentanyl, and that drug is indeed far more potent, prevalent and deadly than most others. But that doesn’t mean that fentanyl – even when it shows in the victim’s bloodwork – is always the but for cause of death.

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Platinum selling rap artist Fetty Wap (real name Willie Junior Maxwell II) was arrested and arraigned on October 29 pursuant to a federal indictment charging him and five other men with Conspiracy to Distribute Narcotics (the other five men were also charged with Use of Firearms in Connection with a Drug Crime). The charges are incredibly serious and Fetty Wap faces very significant jail time.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the rapper and five other men trafficked in significant quantities of heroin, cocaine, and the especially-dangerous drug, fentanyl. The defendants (including Anthony Leonardi, Robert Leonardi, Brian Sullivan, Anthony Syntje, and Kavaughn Wiggins) have all been arrested and detained pending trial. Prosecutors claim to have recovered at least 16 kilograms of cocaine, 2 kilograms of heroin, and fentanyl, though it is certain that they will allege that the group is responsible for far more than that. Indeed, the press release describes the amount of drugs trafficked by the crew as “massive”.

Fetty Wap is unlikely to be released on bail pending trial, though it may be possible given his likely financial resources. However, in federal narcotics cases of this size and scale, the presumption for judges is that a defendant should be detained pending trial. Fetty Wap would have to convincingly demonstrate that he does not pose a risk to the public, and that he would not flee if released on bond. Given his resources (and possible ability to live abroad), the amount of prison time that he is potentially facing, the fact that his codefendants are indicted for using firearms, and the fact that he allegedly trafficked in fentanyl, which is notorious for causing fatal overdoses, it seems unlikely that he will be bailed out pending trial.

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In federal court, the sentences for narcotics trafficking can be quite severe. The maximum and minimum penalties are generally contained in 21 U.S.C. Section 841. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines also help predict a likely outcome for a federal narcotics case. Generally speaking, the charges normally can be divided into three subsections of the law: 21 U.S.C. Section 841(b)(1)(A) provides for a ten year mandatory minimum sentence, 21 U.S.C. Section 841(b)(1)(B) most provides for a five year mandatory minimum sentence, and 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C) has no mandatory minimum sentence. However, those penalties can change significantly if a person overdoses or dies as a result of the drug at issue, and if the convicted seller has a prior conviction for selling narcotics.

For example, if a person is convicted in federal court of selling even a small amount of drugs, and one of his customers dies from an overdose, the minimum penalty immediately becomes 20 years. If the convicted person also has a prior conviction for selling narcotics, that person may face a life sentence for having sold drugs that results in an overdose.

These cases can certainly be defended against at trial. It can be difficult for prosecutors to prove which drugs a deceased person may have consumed, who they purchased them from, or whether the drugs were actually responsible for the person’s death. However, these cases are extremely serious and should be defended by an attorney with experience in these matters. Matthew Galluzzo, a federal criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor, has defended individuals accused of trafficking narcotics resulting in death. If you or a loved one are facing federal charges relating to narcotics, you should strongly consider contacting him to discuss his possible engagement.

 

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A huge percentage of the criminal cases in federal court involve charges relating to the trafficking of drugs, narcotics, and controlled substances. Convictions for these crimes carry serious penalties and sometimes involve mandatory minimum prison sentences. Usually, a person accused in federal court of possessing or trafficking controlled substances is charged with violating 21 USC 841, which makes it a crime to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance. Section 841(b) sets forth the potential penalties for this offense, and it depends primarily upon the quantity of controlled substance possessed/distributed in the aggregate. What matters for sentencing purposes is not the number of transactions or the frequency of the activity, but the total volume of drugs possessed or distributed over time. If the quantities involved surpass a certain threshold (depending on the drug), as set forth in Section 841(b), then there can be serious mandatory minimum prison sentences for the offenders. Those mandatory minimum sentences notwithstanding, the potential penalties for these offenses are governed by the complex system set forth in the federal sentencing guidelines. For more on the federal sentencing guidelines, click here.

Federal cases involving narcotics charges typically are the result of long-term investigations by the FBI, the DEA, Homeland Security, or a joint task force involving local police like the NYPD. As such, there are oftentimes wiretaps, surveillance tapes, confidential informants, and search warrants. An effective defense requires an attorney who can review the evidence and the law enforcement processes to determine whether any constitutional rights were violated.

Many unfortunate individuals never actually possessed or distributed narcotics but nonetheless find themselves charged in federal court on account of the conspiracy laws encapsulated in 21 USC 846. That statute explains: “Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.” Basically, this means that a person who plays any knowing role whatsoever in another person’s illegal business is criminally liable for the entirety of that conduct. For example, a person who introduces two people for the purpose of a drug transaction can be expected to be charged as an equal to whatever drug transaction ultimately occurred. A person who acts as a lookout during a drug transaction could be treated as equally culpable to the seller of the narcotics. A person who simply rents an apartment to someone whom he knows is dealing drugs from the apartment could be guilty of “conspiring” to assist the dealer. These are just a few examples of people who could be charged in ways that seem unfair in light of their relatively modest role in the crime. We have however defended many girlfriends of drug dealers and casual acquaintances of true criminals who have found themselves knee-deep in serious federal cases after having had only fleeting or tangential involvement in the cases. But this is the reality of federal conspiracy law.

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Foreign citizens and drug importation charges at JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia Airports (federal controlled substance crimes)

American demand for illegal drugs, combined with harsh federal and state laws prohibiting their sale and possession, has created a black market that can be extraordinarily lucrative for illegal drug traffickers. Enticed by the potential to make significant amounts of money very quickly, many foreign citizens make the mistake of attempting to import controlled substances into the United States through New York City’s international airports (JFK and Newark, and to a lesser extent, LaGuardia). Those individuals caught in the act of importing narcotics typically face federal criminal charges like 21 U.S.C. § 952 (importing controlled substances) or 21 U.S.C. § 841 (possessing controlled substances with intent to distribute). Indeed, one study concluded that approximately 75% of those individuals sentenced for federal drug convictions in 2014 were illegal immigrants or foreign citizens.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/illegal-immigrants-responsible-for-almost-three-fourths-of-federal-drug-possession-sentences-in-2014/article/2567814

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Individuals without criminal records arrested for misdemeanors in New York City are routinely charged by way of a Desk Appearance Ticket. Though individuals issued Desk Appearance Ticket do not spend twenty-four hours in prison awaiting arraignment like other defendants, their cases are no less serious than those misdemeanor cases pursued the “traditional” way (in which defendants do not get released from custody until they are arraigned before a judge the day after their arrests). One of the advantages for defendants issued Desk Appearance Tickets (as opposed to the “traditional way”) is that they have an opportunity to seek counsel of their choosing for their arraignments. As a result, the attorney-authors of this blog are routinely asked: “Should I hire an attorney for my Desk Appearance Ticket?” Our typical answer: only if you care about your future, your career, or your family.

Public defenders are available for indigent defendants at arraignments on Desk Appearance Tickets. However, if you are not indigent, then you do not qualify for a public defender, meaning that you will have to return with a privately-retained lawyer anyway. Even if you do qualify, technically, for a public defender, you should consider various other reasons for hiring a private attorney. First and foremost, you will be unable to speak to a public defender in advance of your court date, whereas a private defense attorney can meet with you and prepare you and answer your questions in advance of your court date. Also, defendants with private attorneys are usually seen by the judge first and can typically leave before 10:30 am; those people relying on public defenders may find themselves waiting in line all day to talk to an attorney, and waiting to see a judge well into the afternoon session. If your case lasts beyond the arraignment, you may find it extremely difficult to get ahold of a public defender, as they are typically responsible for hundreds of criminal cases at a given moment and are often unable to respond to voicemails; in contrast, a private lawyer presumably has more time to answer your phone calls and questions and meet with you in the office. The private attorneys at our office, unlike public defenders, will continue to work on your case after its done to ensure that where, if applicable, the records of your arrest have been properly sealed and the matter cleared from the public domain. Finally, the attorneys at our office, unlike public defenders, can sometimes in certain types of cases assist out-of-state residents, students, or foreign citizens by appearing for them in lieu of personal appearances.

Most importantly, though, these matters are important and must be taken seriously. A criminal conviction – even for a misdemeanor – can create permanent obstacles to employment, naturalization, university admission, and more. There is no expungement of criminal convictions in New York, so a criminal conviction for even a misdemeanor is a permanent matter of public record and can haunt a person for the rest of his or her life. FINRA-licensed brokers can unwittingly jeopardize their careers in seemingly trivial matters, and non-citizens can prevent themselves from being able to stay in the United States in accepting a disposition that seems otherwise reasonable. These are mistakes that can be avoided with the advice of good and prepared counsel.

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The New Frontier of Drug Crimes: Silk Road, Agora, and the Dark Web

The traditional business model of drug trafficking, though potentially lucrative, is fraught with peril and obstacles for its participants at all levels. Thanks to fantastic television programs like The Wire and Breaking Bad, many Americans already have a basic understanding of this business model: Transactions are conducted using cash, and regulatory safeguards at banks and other institutions make it difficult for dealers to use their income to make large purchases (thereby necessitating the risky business of money laundering). Transactions are also generally made face-to-face and hand-to-hand, meaning that the dealers and buyers can be fairly easily identified or apprehended by law enforcement.

These sorts of traditional drug dealing operations use levels and levels of intermediaries to protect the chiefs from being directly implicated, but law enforcement officers have routinely been able to force low- and medium-level dealers to “snitch” on their suppliers. Moreover, this business model’s need for a human being to personally deliver contraband makes the buyers and sellers potentially subject to violent acts by thieves or competitors.

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Operating as a major trafficker – NY’s “Kingpin” statute (Penal Law Section 220.77)

A few years ago, the New York Assembly enacted into law a tough new statute designed to increase the penalties for major narcotics traffickers or managers of drug trafficking organizations. Penal Law 220.77, oftentimes referred to as New York’s “kingpin statute,” makes it a Class A-1 felony offense to

  1. act as a director of a controlled substance organization during any period of twelve months or less, during which period such controlled substance organization sells one or more controlled substances, and the proceeds collected or due from such sale or sales have a total aggregate value of seventy-five thousand dollars or more; or
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