Drug crimes are an extremely serious matter in Arizona and the United States as a whole. Typically, the element of distribution of or manufacturing of controlled substances can not only change how a case is prosecuted but also the sentences that could be imposed on an offender, which could range from one year to a term of life in prison.
The stakes in these cases could not be higher, which is why you should always consult competent legal counsel when faced with a drug crime.
Federal Drug Crimes
On October 27, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This legislation marked the beginning of mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act and mandatory minimum sentences have gone through some changes since 1986 and still remain a hotly debated issue, but regardless of these circumstances, every year, thousands of American citizens face lengthy federal prison sentences for drug crimes under mandatory minimum sentencing.
Federal Possession With Intent to Distribute
Federal Statutes dealing with drug crimes and mandatory minimum sentences state that it is illegal to “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.” It is important to note that this statute, 21 U.S. Code § 841(a)(1), encompasses many acts within one statement.
It specifies that the act of manufacturing, which encompasses all forms of direct and indirect preparation of a controlled substance, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance is prohibited under law. Moreover, even if an offender does not actually go forward with the act of distributing or manufacturing a controlled substance, the government can prosecute an offender if he or she planned or “intended” to manufacture a controlled substance.
Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences
One way for a mandatory minimum sentence to be triggered is for an offender to violate the statute listed above with a certain amount of a controlled substance. The smallest amounts of the most common controlled substances that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence are as follows:
- Heroin or a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin – 100 grams or more
- Cocaine or a substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine – 500 grams or more
- 28 grams or more of crack cocaine or a substance with a cocaine base
- 10 grams or more of PCP
- 100 grams or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of PCP
- 1 gram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of LSD
- 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
- 5 grams or more of methamphetamine
Any offender caught manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing a controlled substance that is listed above, and that equals or exceeds the weights listed above could face a federal prison sentence of five years minimum and 40 years maximum.
Distribution Causing Bodily Injury or Death
Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines are enhanced if the government can prove that death or bodily injury resulted from the use of the substance being distributed. The most common way this could occur would be if a customer overdosed on the controlled substance that was being distributed. If the prosecution can successfully demonstrate that this, the offender could face a minimum 20-year term of imprisonment, with the maximum being life in prison.
Enhanced Mandatory Minimum Sentences
As the amount of a controlled substance being distributed increases, so does the potential prison sentence an individual could face. If an offender is caught distributing a controlled substance that is the same type and meets or equals the weights listed below, they could face a minimum federal prison sentence of ten years, with the maximum punishment being life in prison. Moreover, if death or bodily injury results from the use of the distributed substance, the possible prison sentence would be a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison.
- Heroin or a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin – 1 kilogram or more
- Cocaine or a substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine – 5 kilograms or more
- 280 grams or more of crack cocaine or a substance with a cocaine base
- 100 grams or more of PCP
- 1 kilogram or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of PCP
- 10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of LSD
- 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana
- 50 grams or more of methamphetamine
These lists are not all-inclusive. Most of the substances above are either schedule one or schedule two controlled substances. In addition to these sentencing guidelines, there are mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for every controlled substance, including schedules three, four, and five, and these lists are being updated on a rather consistent basis as new controlled substances are created.
Attempting or Conspiring to Commit a Federal Drug Crime
Federal law does not just prohibit drug crimes. It also prohibits planning or attempting to commit a drug crime, and the sentences handed down for attempting or conspiring to distribute or manufacture a controlled substance are identical to those imposed on an individual who actually carried out the offense itself.
21 U.S. Code § 846 clearly states, “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.” So, planning to commit a drug crime and actually committing a crime can both lead to the same sentence.
Federal Penalties for Continuing a Criminal Enterprise
Federal prosecutors are given several legal tools to prosecute the leaders of organized criminal operations. Two statutes that deal specifically with the leaders of criminal organizations are 21 U.S. Code § 848, which specifically addresses continuing a criminal enterprise (CCE), and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Both of these statutes are complex and can be used to prosecute the leaders of drug trafficking organizations.
The difference between RICO and CCE is the scope of the statute. RICO can be used in connection with organized drug traffickers, but it can also be used against a host of other illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, murder, etc. The CCE statute is specifically used to target leaders of large-scale drug trafficking and distribution operations.
What Does Continuing a Criminal Enterprise Mean?
21 U.S. Code § 848(c) indicates that two things must be proven for a person to be guilty of continuing a criminal enterprise.
- He or she “violates any provision of this subchapter or subchapter II the punishment for which is a felony.” When this statute refers to a violation of “this subchapter or subchapter II.” it is referring to many crimes, including distributing or manufacturing narcotics.
- The crime has to be a part of a continuing series or pattern of crimes that is either carried out by the offender and five or people with the offender being the leader or organizer of the group. This element can also be proven if the series of crimes results in the offender obtaining substantial income or resources.
Any person that is found to be continuing a criminal enterprise can face a minimum 20-year term of imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Arizona Drug Crimes
Arizona’s drug crime laws are just as harsh, if not harsher, than federal drug crime laws. Like federal law, the Arizona Criminal Code imposes mandatory minimums on repeat offenders and first-time offenders that have been convicted of the sale, manufacture, or trafficking of methamphetamine.
Arizona Penalties for Possession for Sale of a Dangerous Drug
Some offenders convicted of possession for sale of a dangerous drug are eligible for probation. However, if the offender is in possession of an amount of the dangerous drug that exceeds the “statutory threshold,” they will face a mandatory prison sentence and will not be eligible for a suspended sentence.
The statutory threshold amounts for some of the most common dangerous and narcotic drugs are listed below:
- One gram of heroin
- Nine grams of cocaine
- Seven hundred fifty milligrams of cocaine based or hydrolyzed cocaine
- Four grams or 50 milliliters of PCP
- Nine grams of methamphetamine, including methamphetamine in liquid suspension
- Nine grams of amphetamine, including amphetamine in liquid suspension
- One-half milliliter of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), or in the case of blotter dosage units, fifty dosage units
- Two pounds of marijuana
In addition, these weights apply to any mixture of a narcotic or dangerous drug. Meaning, if an offender was caught selling a narcotic mixture that consisted of only 50% of the illegal substance, the statutory threshold would be determined by the entire weight of the mixture, not just the weight of the illegal drug present in the mixture.
For substances that are illegal and not listed above, the statutory threshold is determined by the market value of the substance. Any amount of a dangerous or narcotic drug that is not listed and that has a market value equal to, or more than $1,000 exceeds the statutory threshold, pursuant to A.R.S 13-3401.36(j).
Sentences for Possession for Sale of a Dangerous Drug in Arizona
Possession for sale of a dangerous drug is categorized as a class two felony in Arizona that carries harsh prison sentences. The mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders that are convicted of this crime are as follows:
- Mitigated – 4.5 years
- Minimum – 6 years
- Presumptive – 9.25 years
- Maximum – 18.5 years
- Aggravated – 23 years
These sentencing guidelines also apply to repeat offenders convicted of administering a dangerous drug to another person, manufacturing dangerous drugs, and transporting, importing into the state, or offering to transport or import dangerous drugs into the state for sale.
Presumptive sentences are usually imposed on an offender unless there are mitigating or aggravating factors to the crime. Mitigating factors can potentially allow a sentence to be reduced to a shorter prison sentence. Some examples of mitigating factors include:
- The offender’s age
- Whether or not the offender committed the crime under a certain amount of duress.
- The degree of participation that an offender actually had in the crime
Aggravating factors, on the other hand, can influence a judge to enhance a sentence to the maximum prison sentence allowed under law. Examples of aggravating factors include:
- The presence of an accomplice
- The offender had a previous felony conviction within ten years of the current conviction (applies to felonies committed both in and outside the state of Arizona)
- The offense was committed in a particularly heinous, cruel, or depraved manner
Penalties for Possession for Sale of Methamphetamine in Arizona
The Arizona legislature has elected to impose harsher sentences for repeat felony offenders convicted of possession for sale of methamphetamines. If the amount of methamphetamines exceeds the statutory threshold, nine grams, or the prosecution can prove that the methamphetamine was for sale, the offender could face the following mandatory minimum sentences:
- Minimum – 5 years
- Presumptive – 10 years
- Maximum – 15 years
These sentencing guidelines apply to offenders that do not have a previous distribution of methamphetamine convictions. If the offender has been previously convicted of possession for sale of methamphetamine, manufacturing, possession of equipment or chemicals to manufacture methamphetamine, transporting for sale, importing into the state, or offering to transport or import methamphetamine into the state for sale, the offender will face the following enhanced sentencing guidelines:
- Minimum – 10 years
- Presumptive – 15 years
- Maximum – 20 years
Arizona Drug Arrest Statistics
Source: Arizona Criminal Justice Commission
According to the EDGE Report produced by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission in 2021, drug arrests in most major categories have fallen over the past five years. This includes marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. In the category of “other illicit drugs,” which excludes the aforementioned categories, the state has seen a tripling of arrests in the past five years from 590 to 1,522. The number of methamphetamine arrests has fallen from a five-year high of 1770 in 2017 to fewer than half that number in 2020. Not all categories of arrests have had as dramatic of a change, but the total arrests are trending downward.
Arizona Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you are facing serious drug charges such as the charges discussed here or others, it is important that you obtain competent and experienced legal representation. Your attorney will analyze how evidence was obtained to determine if it can be suppressed, present mitigating factors for a reduced sentence, and evaluate whether you can move to have your charges dismissed due to a constitutional or procedural error during the arrest. At the law office of Hernandez & Hamilton, our team of criminal defense attorneys have over 90 years of experience defending drug crimes of all types and represent clients in both the state of Arizona and the rest of the United States. So take the first step in getting help during this stressful time in your life and call our office today for a consultation.