Federal Laws for "Trafficking Drugs" (21 U.S.C. § 841)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Trafficking narcotics in Nevada is a serious crime under federal law. A conviction may carry decades in prison and multi-million dollar fines.

Keep reading to learn about the federal crime of "trafficking controlled substances" in Nevada. Scroll down for the definition of "trafficking," ways our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys combat the charges, and what punishments courts impose.

Definition

The legal definition of "drug trafficking" under federal law is extremely far-reaching. It comprises any of these illegal acts:

  • knowingly manufacturing drugs
  • knowingly dispensing drugs
  • knowingly distributing drugs
  • knowingly possessing drugs with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense them

Consequently "trafficking" constitutes almost every drug crime including the making, sale or transportation of drugs. The primary federal drug crime which "trafficking" does not encompass is the possession of drugs for personal use ("simple possession"). Searchlight NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates this distinction:

Example: Jason ships several kilos of cocaine from Los Angeles to Carson City. There Thomas buys an ounce from Jason for his own recreational use. If the U.S. Marshals Service catches them, they both could be booked at the Washoe County Detention Center. However only Jason would be charged with drug trafficking in federal court. Thomas would face charges only for the federal crime of simple possession because Thomas did not manufacture, sell or dispense the cocaine and did not intend to do so.

it is also illegal under 21 U.S.C. § 841 to traffic counterfeit substances. Therefore if Jason in the previous example knowingly trafficked a legal powder he attempted to pass off as cocaine, he still would face charges for drug trafficking in Nevada federal court.

Intent requirement

Trafficking drugs is a specific intent crime. What this means is that a suspect should not be convicted of trafficking if he/she had no knowledge that he/she was trafficking drugs. Henderson NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an example:

Example: Tony from San Francisco is paid to drive construction materials to Henderson, NV. Once there Tony gets pulled over for speeding and permits the police to search his vehicle. The police come across a parcel of crack hidden in the materials and then book Tony at the Henderson NV criminal defense attorney for the federal crime of trafficking drugs. But if the prosecution cannot prove that Tony knew the crack was in the car, he should be acquitted.

Federal law vs. Nevada law

there are two primary differences between the Nevada crime of drug trafficking and federal drug trafficking law:

  1. Contrary to federal law, Nevada drug trafficking law also constitutes the act of "simple possession" of drugs as long as the quantity exceeds a certain limit. For example, possessing four grams of heroin for personal use would be prosecuted as trafficking in Nevada. But possessing less than four grams would instead be prosecuted as the Nevada crime of drug possession for personal use.
  2. Contrary to Nevada law, federal drug trafficking law does not have weight minimums. Therefore, it is possible under federal law to traffic even tiny quantities of controlled substances.

Read further about Nevada drug laws.

Defenses

Three common strategies for fighting allegations of the federal crime of narcotics trafficking are 1) Lack of evidence, 2) No intent to traffic, and 3) Illegal police conduct.

  1. No intent to traffic. A defendant is not liable under 21 U.S.C. § 841 if he/she did not knowingly traffic the drugs. So if a defense attorney can persuade the court that the defendant was honestly unaware that the drugs were there, criminal charges should not stand.
  2. Lack of evidence. In all federal criminal cases the U.S. Attorney's Office's has the burden to demonstrate the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So if the defense attorney can show the court that the government's evidence is not reliable or sufficient to justify a guilty verdict, the defendant should not be convicted of federal drug trafficking charges.
  3. Illegal police conduct. If the police may have conducted an illegal search in a federal drug trafficking case, then the defense attorney could file a "Nevada motion to suppress evidence" asking the judge to throw out any evidence obtained from illegal police searches. If the judge grants the motion, there may be insufficient evidence remaining for the prosecution to proceed with the case.
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Penalties

The severity of federal sentences for drug trafficking in Nevada turn on four separate factors:

  1. whether it is the defendant's first drug trafficking conviction
  2. the quantity of drugs trafficked
  3. the type of drugs trafficked (see the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's list of Schedule I-V drugs)
  4. whether death or serious injury resulted from the trafficking

Penalties for trafficking Schedule I drugs:

Heroin:

    • For 100 gms to less than 1 kg:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 1 kg or more:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

– A subsequent offense carries life in prison.

For trafficking penalties in Nevada state court, see our article on Nevada heroin laws.

LSD:

    • For 1 gms to less than 10 gms:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 10 gms or more:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

– A subsequent offense carries life in prison.

Fentanyl Analogue:

    • For 10 gms to less than 100 gms:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 100 gms or more:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

– A subsequent offense carries life in prison.

Marijuana:

For penalty information see our article on the federal crime of marijuana trafficking in Nevada. For trafficking penalties in Nevada state court, see our article on Nevada marijuana laws.

Other Schedule I drugs (including any drug product containing Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid)

    • Any amount:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison and one million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries up to 30 years in prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Penalties for trafficking Schedule II drugs:

Cocaine:

    • For 500 to less than 5000 gms of cocaine or 5 to less than 50 gms of cocaine base:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 5 kgs or more of cocaine or 50 gms or more of cocaine base:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

– A subsequent offense carries life in prison.

For trafficking penalties in Nevada state court, see our article on Nevada cocaine laws

PCP:

    • For 10 to less than 100 gms pure or 100 to less than 1000 gms mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 100 gms or more pure or 1 kg or more mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Methamphetamine:

    • For 5 to less than 50 gms pure or 50 to less than 500 gms mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 50 gms or more pure or 50 gms or more mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

For trafficking penalties in Nevada state court, see our article on Nevada meth laws.

Fentanyl:

    • For 40 to less than 400 gms mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 10 years in prison to life and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.
    • For 400 gms or more mixture:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries 20 years in prison to life and eight million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Other Schedule II drugs (including any drug product containing Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid):

    • Any amount:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison and one million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries up to 30 years in prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Penalties for trafficking Schedule III drugs:

    • Any amount:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 5 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.

– A second offense carries up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 dollars in fines.

Penalties for trafficking Schedule IV drugs:

Flunitrazepam:

    • For less than 30 mgs:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 3 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.

– A second offense carries up to 6 years in prison and $500,000 dollars in fines.
    • For 30 mgs to less than 1000 mgs:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 5 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.

– A second offense carries up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 dollars in fines.
    • For 1 gm or more:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison and one million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.

– A second offense carries up to 30 years in prison and two million dollars in fines. If death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Other Schedule IV drugs:

    • Any amount:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 3 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.

– A second offense carries up to 6 years in prison and $500,000 dollars in fines.

Penalties for trafficking Schedule V drugs:

    • Any amount:
– A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 1 year in Federal Prison and $100,000 in fines.

– A second offense carries up to 2 years in prison and $200,000 dollars in fines.

Note that every federal case involving narcotics are heard in either the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno.

Arrested? Call . . . .

If you are facing federal charges for "trafficking drugs," phone our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) to talk free. We will explore all your options to try to get your charges dropped.

For information on California drug laws, see our article on California drug laws.

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