Federal Cocaine Distribution & Trafficking Charges

Federal Criminal Charges for Cocaine Distribution & Trafficking

Cocaine, derived from the Coca plant native to the South American Andes, is widely recognized as one of the most prevalent drugs worldwide. This alkaloid substance exerts a stimulating effect when ingested through snorting or smoking, and is commonly referred to by various street names including coke, blow, yeyo, or crack. Initially legal for recreational use, cocaine was later prohibited under federal law in 1922. Today, its medical usage is infrequent and heavily regulated.

Under the federal Controlled Substance Act (21 U.S.C. 841), cocaine is listed as a Schedule II substance, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction while retaining some useful medical use under strict settings. Cocaine base, on the other hand, is considered a Schedule I substance, with no accepted medical uses. If you’ve been charged with distributing or trafficking cocaine in New York, it’s critical to contact our federal cocaine distribution defense lawyer right away at (212) 285-2270 for a free consultation.

Trafficking vs Distribution: Understanding the Differences

Drug trafficking and distribution offenses differ primarily in terms of the quantity of drugs involved and the potential penalties associated with each charge. While a drug trafficking charge necessitates a minimum quantity of drugs for qualification, there is no such requirement for an individual to be charged with drug distribution.

Both drug trafficking and distribution convictions can have life-altering consequences. From severe custodial sentences and mandatory minimums, even for first-time offenses, to exorbitant fines and a permanent criminal record, a conviction can be devastating to your life, freedom, and future.

Powder Cocaine vs. Cocaine Base Disparity

Powder cocaine and cocaine base are two different chemical forms of cocaine, distinguished by their manufacturing processes, ingestion methods, and effects. The key distinction between the two lies in how they can be used: powder cocaine may only be snorted or dissolved in water for injection, while cocaine base can only be smoked. Common forms of cocaine base include freebase, coca paste, and crack cocaine.

Notably, federal law imposes significantly harsher penalties for trafficking in cocaine base compared to the same quantity of powder cocaine. This disparity stems from the belief that the cocaine base is more psychologically addictive, more likely to lead to chronic and heavy use, and more commonly associated with violent crime. By enhancing the writing quality, improving word choice, structure, readability, and eloquence, the meaning of the original content is preserved.

Penalties for Federal Cocaine Possession Charges

  1. Simple Possession (First Offense):

    • For a first-time offense of simple possession (possession for personal use), the penalties can include imprisonment for up to one year and a minimum fine of $1,000.
  2. Possession with Intent to Distribute:

    • Penalties for possession with intent to distribute vary based on the quantity of cocaine involved. The quantities triggering certain penalties are specified in the law.
    • For example, possession with intent to distribute:
      • 500 grams or more of cocaine or 5 grams or more of crack cocaine can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, up to a maximum of 40 years, and a fine of up to $5 million for individuals.
      • 5 kilograms or more of cocaine or 50 grams or more of crack cocaine can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, up to a maximum of life imprisonment, and a fine of up to $10 million for individuals.
  3. Second or Subsequent Offenses:

    • Penalties are typically more severe for individuals with prior drug convictions.
  4. Other Factors:

    • Other factors, such as whether the offense occurred near a school or involved violence or death, can also influence the severity of penalties.

Penalties for Federal Cocaine Distribution Charges

  1. Distribution of Cocaine (First Offense):

    • For distribution of cocaine, the penalties vary based on the quantity. Distributing 500 grams or more of cocaine or 5 grams or more of crack cocaine can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, up to a maximum of 40 years, and a fine of up to $5 million for individuals.
  2. Distribution of Larger Quantities:

    • Higher quantities of cocaine lead to more severe penalties. For example, distributing 5 kilograms or more of cocaine or 50 grams or more of crack cocaine can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, up to a maximum of life imprisonment, and a fine of up to $10 million for individuals.
  3. Second or Subsequent Offenses:

    • Penalties are typically more severe for individuals with prior drug convictions. Subsequent offenses may result in increased mandatory minimum sentences.
  4. Death or Serious Bodily Injury:

    • If the distribution of cocaine results in death or serious bodily injury, the penalties can be even more severe. This may include a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, up to life imprisonment, or even the death penalty in cases involving death.
  5. Other Factors:

    • Other factors, such as the involvement of minors, the use of firearms, or the proximity of the distribution to schools or playgrounds, can also influence the severity of penalties.

State Penalties for Cocaine Possession and Distribution 

If convicted of cocaine possession only, you face the following penalties:

  • Incarceration for 1 year and/or a fine of $1,000
  • Possible continuance without a finding provided you attend drug education or counseling and meet other conditions 
  • If a second offense, you face up to 2-years and/or a fine of $2,000

If convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, you will face the following penalties:

  • Incarceration of up to 10 years in state prison or 2.5 years in a house of correction
  • Fine up to $10,000
  • A subsequent conviction carries a 3-year mandatory minimum sentence in prison

Trafficking cocaine is considered to be one of the most severe drug offenses. This charge applies when an individual is arrested and accused of possessing a minimum of 18 grams, which is equivalent to one ounce, of the drug. The consequences vary depending on the quantity involved and can carry significant penalties, including:

  • 18-35 grams: mandatory minimum of 2 years and up to 15 years in state prison, and/or a fine of $2500 to $25,000
  • 36-99 grams: mandatory minimum of 3.5-years and up to 20 years in state prison, and/or a fine of $5000 to $50,000
  • 100 grams but less than 200 grams: mandatory minimum of 8 years and up to 20 years in state prison and a fine of $10,000 up to $100,000
  • 200 grams or more: mandatory minimum of 12 years and up to 20 years in state prison and a fine of $50,000 up to $500,000

Potential Defenses to Distribution of Cocaine Charges

Individuals who are arrested and faced with charges of intent to distribute cocaine have access to available legal defenses. However, it’s critical to consult with a federal cocaine distribution defense lawyer to better understand the best defense options for your particular case.

Lack of Intent to Distribute

If you are found with a quantity of cocaine in your possession or under your control that is less than 18 grams, you will not be charged with intent to distribute, unless you were caught in the act of a transaction. In such a case, the actual quantity becomes irrelevant.

An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can also present evidence to demonstrate that the drug was intended for personal use, thus negating any intent to distribute. If the police do not discover or seize paraphernalia commonly associated with drug dealers, such as scales, measuring devices, small baggies, or packages of drugs, and there is no surveillance indicating a constant stream of visitors to your residence for short periods of time, you can argue against the presence of intent to distribute.

In some cases, your attorney may call upon expert testimony to support the claim that the quantity of drugs in your possession, which would typically be considered for distribution, was actually intended for personal use given your addiction and capacity for consumption.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and state law, you have the right to be protected from unlawful searches and seizures by the police. In order to search your house or car, the police must obtain a warrant based on probable cause that a crime has been committed and that you are likely the perpetrator.

However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. If you are arrested and charged based on a warrantless search, your attorney will assess the circumstances to determine if any of the recognized exceptions by the court apply. These exceptions encompass various situations.

  • A limited search conducted after a lawful arrest
  • Discovery of drugs or paraphernalia in plain view, such as on your couch, car seat, or the floor
  • The automobile exception: if police have credible evidence indicating your car is involved in drug smuggling, they may be allowed to search it
  • Emergency or hot pursuit: if police witness you purchasing drugs and then enter an apartment where they announce themselves and hear the sound of a flushing toilet, they are generally permitted to forcibly enter the apartment and conduct a search without a warrant
  • Consent: by voluntarily providing consent, you waive your right to object to a search of your person or property in the absence of probable cause. It is advisable to never give consent, even if the officer threatens you or claims that they will not arrest you.

Lack of Knowledge

In certain situations, it may happen that a roommate or a passenger in a car is unaware of the defendant’s involvement in drug dealing. If you can demonstrate that you had no access to an area controlled by your roommate or that you were simply an innocent passenger in a vehicle stopped by the police, the prosecution might lack substantial evidence to secure a conviction against you. By showcasing these factors, you can weaken their case.

Tainted Lab Test or Break in Chain of Custody

Furthermore, it is imperative that the drug undergoes thorough testing to establish its authenticity as cocaine. Test results have the potential to reveal that the substance is a harmless powder or that a portion of the quantity seized does not consist of cocaine or any other illicit substance. This is crucial as it can prevent charges related to drug trafficking or intent to distribute. It is worth noting that instances may arise where the drugs become lost or destroyed, or where the testing process is flawed and/or the results are falsified.

Additionally, it is essential for the lab technicians and officers responsible for storing the drug to maintain an unbroken chain of custody, ensuring that the tested or stored drugs are received, labeled, tested, and stored without any discrepancies. Failure to accurately identify, label, or document the drug’s receipt, identification, analysis, or storage could result in the court suppressing its use as evidence during trial.

Contact Our Federal Cocaine Distribution Defense Lawyer Now

Due to the severe consequences associated with intent to distribute cocaine, it is crucial to seek the assistance of a reputable and experienced federal criminal distribution defense attorney. At Sosinsky Law, we will diligently examine all potential defenses and strive to achieve the most favorable outcome for your case. To discuss your criminal matter, please schedule an appointment by calling us now at (212) 285-2270.


Case Results