Drug conspiracies are highly complex cases because many people unwittingly end up getting involved in these. Technically, it means two parties agree to break narcotics laws. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, who have to show that at least two people agreed to the distribution of an illegal substance, and that the accused was aware of the fact that this action was illegal, yet still chose to participate.
Uniquely, drug conspiracy charges can be argued based on circumstantial evidence. A participant’s conduct, for instance, can be classed as evidence. Additionally, it is very common for people to be charged with both drug conspiracy and with trafficking, because conspiracy is so much easier to prove and because trafficking inevitably means more than one person was involved.
People can also be found guilty simply because they have knowledge of the plan. Even if they weren’t part of the plan from the start or they never held the illegal substances, guilt can still be proven. Essentially, any involvement can be seen as conspiracy, and the only thing that needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt is that a person was involved. In fact, the prosecution doesn’t even have to demonstrate that drugs existed. Intent to distribute is enough to prove guilt. Hence, people could be set up in a sting operation with fake cocaine, and still be found guilty of the offense.
Drug Conspiracy Laws
Each state has its own drug conspiracy laws. However, the federal crime is determined under 21 USC Section 846 Attempt and Conspiracy. Whether a crime is classed as federal depends on the substance, its quantity, and whether people crossed state borders.
Drug Conspiracy Crimes & Charges
As explained, the exact crimes and charges depend on the state. In Illinois, for instance, a drug conspiracy is a Class X felony. This means that those found guilty could face from six to 30 years of imprisonment and they may also have to pay a fine of up to $500,000.
Drug Conspiracy Punishment
Punishment for drug conspiracy depends on the type of drug, the quantity of the drug, the state, and the elements of the conspiracy. Under felony charges, people can face a sentence of ten to life for:
- 1,000kg or more of marijuana
- 50gr or more of methamphetamine
- 1kg or more of heroin
- 10gr or more of LSD
- 5kg or more of cocaine
If the amounts are lower, the sentences will also be less severe. Five to 40 years can be imposed for:
- 100kg or more of marijuana
- 5gr or more of methamphetamine
- 100gr or more of heroin
- 1gr or more of LSD
- 500gr or more of cocaine
If the drug conspiracy charge is a federal charge, other punishments may also be imposed, including forfeiture or seizure of property. Indeed, this can happen when people are charged, regardless of whether they are found guilty or not. If property is purchased or otherwise obtained through drugs, or used to enable the conspiracy, it will be forfeited. Fines can also be imposed, and these can reach millions of dollars.
Drug Conspiracy Sentencing Guidelines
The sentencing guidelines for drug conspiracy are the same as those for the underlying offense, which means it depends on the drug and the quantity.
Drug Conspiracy Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for drug conspiracy charges also varies depending on the state. However, under 21 USC Section 846, which means the drug conspiracy is a federal crime, the statute is five years. However, when the clock starts ticking can be very difficult to determine. Often, it starts on the date of the last time that the accused had any involvement in the conspiracy.
Drug Conspiracy Elements
When looking at a drug conspiracy charge, defense attorneys will look at various elements, particularly the type of drug that was involved and its quantity. They will try to create a timeline of events to indicate what happened and when. They will also try to search for the origins of the drug, trying to show that there was never an involvement by the defendant. Although drug conspiracy is far easier to prove than any other drug crime, the prosecution still has to prove involvement beyond reasonable doubt, so the defense will focus mainly on raising that doubt.
Drug Conspiracy Techniques
Numerous techniques are used to get people involved in drug conspiracies. So much so, in fact, that many people are currently incarcerated when they have had little to no involvement with a conspiracy. For example, they could have shared a house with another person who was a drug dealer and genuinely have been unaware of this. However, by literally being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they could face lengthy sentences in jail. Due to the relentless war on drugs, many people have had to face this very situation.
Additionally, it is quite common for drug dealers and cartels to use innocent people as part of their operations. It is for this very reason that security personnel at airports ask whether people have packed their bags themselves and whether they have been left unattended. Even to this day, dealers and mules at airports still ask strangers to take a bag on their behalf and surprisingly, they are often successful.
Drug Conspiracy Defenses
In order to properly defend a drug conspiracy charge, it is vital that the lawyers involved have a full understanding of the evidence the prosecution has against the alleged offender. The burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt lies with them, after all. More often than not, attorneys will try to prove that the way in which evidence, including drugs and currency, was obtained, was illegal. For instance, they may suggest that a police officer did not have enough reason to stop a vehicle, or that no consent was given to search a vehicle. Essentially, they will suggest the defendant’s rights were violated, which means the evidence that was seized must be suppressed. Other defenses include duress and entrapment, although they are much more difficult to prove.
Drug Conspiracy Cases
- Prisoner pleads guilty for role in federal drug conspiracy – Velarian S. Carter, 38, entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, more than 280 grams of crack, and more than 100 grams of heroin. Carter is one of 23 defendants indicted in June 2017 after a comprehensive investigation of drug trafficking in Southern West Virginia.
- Fifth Member of Drug Conspiracy Sentenced to 20 Years – Marcus Davis, 37, was an associate of Marvin O’Neal Carter, the former leader of a large-scale cocaine trafficking conspiracy who was sentenced to 27 years in prison on Nov. 2, 2017.
- Former IRS Attorney Pleads Guilty to Drug Conspiracy – Jack Vitayanon was arrested in February in Washington, D.C., on charges that he conspired with people in Arizona and Long Island to distribute meth over a number of years.
- 1995 Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy. (1995, February). Retrieved from https://www.ussc.gov/research/congressional-reports/1995-report-congress-cocaine-and-federal-sentencing-policy
- 21 U.S. Code Section 846 – Attempt and conspiracy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/846.
- Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Drug Offenses in the Federal Criminal Justice System. (2017, October). Retrieved from https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2017/20171025_Drug-Mand-Min.pdf
- Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Terms of Imprisonment for Violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act and Related Laws. (2015, January 20). Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30722.pdf