Articles Posted in Narcotics

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Crystal Methamphetamine Defense Attorney

Crystal methamphetamine is a frequent target of law enforcement in New York. The simple possession of a small (personal use) quantity is typically prosecuted in state court as a misdemeanor pursuant to NY Penal Law Section 220.03. The possession or trafficking of very large quantities of crystal methamphetamine is oftentimes prosecuted in federal court pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Sections 846 and 841, and can carry significant mandatory minimum penalties depending upon the quantity and the defendant’s criminal record. These federal charges also typically involve presumptive pre-trial detention, meaning that it may be difficult if not impossible to secure a defendant’s release pending trial. Larger-scale trafficking and possession of crystal methamphetamine can also result in New York state Class A-II felony charges for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree (Penal Law 220.18) and/or Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree (Penal Law 220.41).

Matthew Galluzzo has extensive experience defending individuals accused of possessing or trafficking crystal methamphetamine in New York state and federal courts. His clients have gotten great results in these matters. For example, on several occasions, Mr. Galluzzo has negotiated outright dismissals of serious felony charges in exchange for participation in drug rehabilitation programs. In multiple federal cases involving the trafficking of many kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, he earned his clients sentences far below those called for by the Sentencing Guidelines. In short, his track record with these sorts of matters is second to none.

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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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Federal law enforcement agents from the DEA routinely seize quantities of cash that they suspect to be tied to or derived from narcotics trafficking. Frequently, these seizures happen in conjuncture with the arrests of those in possession of the cash, or pursuant to indictments. But most of the time, agents seize cash – even huge sums of it – without arresting anyone. In those cases, the owners or possessors of that seized cash have some difficult decisions to make.

In these cases, federal law generally requires the agents to send a notice to the person from whom the cash was seized. The person who receives the notice is typically given the opportunity to make a claim for the cash, which includes an explanation as to the source of the cash. This response must be made under penalty of perjury, and can include supplemental documentation from a related business (such as tax returns or bank statements), or sworn statements from other people, among other things. Every once in awhile, the agents return the cash to the claimant based upon the representations made by the claimant, or based upon the evidence demonstrated to the agency. Our attorneys have successfully assisted clients in getting cash returned by federal agents this way.

If, however, the agency refuses to return the money based upon these representations, then they must commence a civil forfeiture action in federal court. The precise procedures for doing so are outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 983. Ultimately, in a civil court proceeding, the federal agency (DEA) must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the seized cash represents proceeds of illegal activity. This is the civil standard for proof and it is much lower (easier) than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard necessary to prove a person’s guilt of a crime.

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