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How severe are sentences for federal drug charges?

It has become well known that drug laws can be very harsh in the United States, including in Missouri. This can be particularly true when it comes to drug conspiracy laws and other federal charges, which carry significantly higher penalties on average than State laws.

Take, for example, cases involving defendants who are charged with possessing or distributing methamphetamine. Law enforcement has attempted to ramp up their resources in order to stay ahead of alleged distribution networks involving methamphetamine. In 2012, Missouri was reported as having more methamphetamine labs than any other state, and imports from out of state, and even out of country, have increased over the years.

Defendants who are convicted on methamphetamine charges can face drastic sentences. For instance, a repeat offender can receive a sentence of 140 months. These penalties can increase even further if firearms were involved, as those convicted of a drug offense while in the possession of a firearm can receive a 15-year sentence.

What's more, in the federal system, defendants serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, as opposed to the state system, where they may be eligible for parole earlier than that. In addition, federal charges may involve mandatory minimum sentences, where judges have no discretion to sentence defendants to less than a certain range of years.

Accordingly, the bottom line is that potential sentences for federal drug charges can be very strict. Individuals who are facing drug charges should thus be vigilant in defending against the charges, given what is at stake. Through presenting an effective defense, individuals may be able to clear their name of the charges, or at least avoid the drastic penalties that might otherwise occur.

Source: United States Department of Justice, "Methamphetamine Initiative," accessed on Aug. 29, 2014

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