According to Dallas drug possession lawyer John Helms there are four main ways to get a federal drug sentence reduced.
There are four primary ways of getting a sentence reduction in federal drug cases, says Dallas drug possession lawyer John Helms:
- Cooperate with the government.
- Negotiate a plea to a charge with a lower mandatory minimum sentence.
- Negotiate a plea agreement with a maximum sentence cap.
- Invoke the “safety valve” provision of 18 USC Section 3553(f).
I will do a separate blog entry on each of these with more details. This blog entry will explain why they are the primary options.
In the federal criminal justice system, the judge decides what the sentence will be. In many state court systems, including Texas, a defendant can elect to have a jury decide the sentence, but this is not an option in federal courts.
In federal drug cases, mandatory minimum sentences and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are the most influential factors in shaping a sentence.
Federal drug distribution charges often carry a minimum sentence for which there are only a few exceptions. For example, possession with intent to distribute 5 kilos or more of cocaine or 1 kilo or more of heroin carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The drug amount can include all drug quantities for everyone involved in a conspiracy–not just what one individual possessed. Even with the best drug defense attorney, if a person is guilty of this charge, with only a few exceptions, the judge CANNOT sentence a defendant to less than ten years in prison.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a set of guidelines that help a judge to determine what the typical range of punishment should be for a particular crime and for a defendant with a particular criminal record. All federal judges are required to consider the Guidelines in deciding a sentence. They are not required to follow them, but most judges follow them in most cases. The idea is to try to make sentences for a given crime and a defendant with a given criminal record similar throughout the federal system, whether the court is in Alabama, Alaska, or anywhere else.
In the federal system, it is rare for the prosecutor and the drug defense lawyer to agree on a specific sentence in a plea bargain and to present it to the judge. In fact, federal judges and the Department of Justice discourage this because it tends to tie a judge’s hands when it comes to sentencing.
Because plea bargaining for a specific sentence is rare and discouraged, the 4 methods above are the primary methods of getting a sentence reduction in federal drug cases.
Cooperating with the government, a plea agreement to a lesser charge, and the “safety valve” are ways to avoid mandatory minimum sentences that would otherwise apply.
Cooperating with the government and negotiating a maximum sentence cap are ways to reduce or counter the effect of the Sentencing Guidelines. Cooperating can result in a lower recommended sentence range under the Guidelines. A maximum sentence cap can set the maximum sentence a defendant can receive at a level below the recommended Sentencing Guideline range.
These four methods are not available in every case, says Dallas drug lawyer John Helms. Additionally, the judge has to approve any reduction due to cooperation and can reject a plea agreement with a maximum cap. Finally, the safety valve applies in limited situations, and the judge must make certain findings before it applies. My separate blog entries will describe each of them in more detail.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a federal drug offense or are facing other drug charges, contact Dallas drug possession lawyer John Helms immediately. Call 214-666-8010