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Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson represents clients who have been charged or are about to be charged with drug charges in Federal Court. The Charles Johnson Law Firm has earned an international reputation as one of the top Federal Drug Law Firms.
Regardless of the federal or international drug charge, Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson has the drug defense experience to handle your case. He has successfully handled sophisticated drug defense cases that included Trafficking, Importation, Distribution and many others. When faced with a federal drug crime there is absolutely no substitute for experience. If you have been charged with drug crime and need a Federal Drug Defense Attorney, contact Attorney Johnson directly anytime night or day at (713) 222-7577. In Federal and International Drug Defense, experience makes the difference.
Federal Drug Crimes Overview
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, also known as the Controlled Substances Act, classifies narcotics, marijuana and other drugs into five categories, or Schedules. Besides establishing requirements relating to manufacture and distribution of drugs, the law also defines penalties for violations of the Act. Depending on the nature and quantity of the substance involved, as well as the presence of sentence-enhancing factors, the criminal penalties can be severe. If you are facing federal drug charges, call Houston Federal Drug Crime Lawyer Charles Johnson for advice on the law, your rights and how to proceed. He is available around the clock to take your call.
Offenses at the Federal Level
Federal drug offenses differ from those at the state level, even though the conduct in question might be the same. In defining crimes, Congress’ authority comes from its Constitutionally-granted powers over the areas of commerce, taxation and the postal service.
Some of the drug crimes under the Controlled Substances Act include:
- Drug trafficking: manufacturing, distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute illicit drugs
- Manufacturing: operating places for the purposes of manufacturing, distributing or using illicit drugs, or endangering human life while so doing
- Continuing criminal enterprise crimes: trafficking in illicit drugs by a person in concert with five or more other persons
- Conspiracy: involves attempts and the promoting and facilitating of manufacture, distribution or importation of illicit drugs
- Protected location offenses: distributing illicit drugs to persons under age 21 or within a school or playground zone; employing persons under age 18 in drug operations
- Simple possession: possessing controlled substances without a valid prescription from a licensed medical practitioner (unlike trafficking, simple possession does not involve intent to distribute the drugs)
Other drug offenses under the Act include investing illicit drug profits in businesses affecting interstate commerce and unauthorized importation of controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the federal controlled substances laws and regulations.
In addition, drug crimes at the federal level may include violations of tax law, such as tax evasion, or engaging in activities prohibited by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Federal drug laws specify minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment, based on the type and quantity of drug involved. Likewise, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, these factors are taken into account, along with:
- Whether the offense involved injury to another person
- Whether a weapon was possessed or used
- The defendant’s criminal history
While judges have discretion to depart from sentencing guidelines, they must still stay within the mandatory minimum and maximum terms specified by statute. Where the offense occurs in a school or other protected zone, penalties may be enhanced.
Hire the Best Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Drug crimes can be charged and prosecuted under federal law, state law or both. Because federal drug crimes can carry significantly harsher penalties, it is important to contact a knowledgeable lawyer who is familiar with both federal and state drug laws. If you are facing either federal or state drug charges, call Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson now at (713) 222-7577. He can explain the intricacies of both systems and vigorously represent your interests.
Charged with a Federal Crime? What To Expect
The following is a short summary of what you can expect if charged with a Federal Crime.
By the time you read this material, you or your loved one will have already entered the Federal Criminal Justice System. Whether you are in custody or in the “free world”, one firm rule applies: Do not discuss your case with anyone but your lawyer. Anything you say can and will be used against you. This is true whether you talk to a police officer, a person you just met in a holding cell, or a “friend”.
RELEASE OR DETENTION
The first thing to worry about is whether you are going to be released while waiting for trial. There is no bond set automatically in federal court. Your family cannot simply pay a bondsman to get you out.
Court Appearance: If you were arrested and taken into custody, you will soon appear before a United States Magistrate Judge. This is not the District Judge that will hear your trial. This Magistrate Judge will decide if there are any conditions that would allow your release.
Pretrial Report: In order to assist the Magistrate Judge, a Pretrial Services Officer will interview you and give the Magistrate Judge a written report about your background and criminal history. The Officer will not ask you about the facts of your case and you should not volunteer any information. If you lie to the Officer, it will hurt you later on.
Chance for Release: You are most likely to be released if you have little or no criminal history, if you have solid employment and family ties in your community, if you are a United States Citizen, and if you are not charged with a serious drug trafficking offense or crime of violence. Even if you are not a good risk for release, the Magistrate Judge must still hold a hearing and find reasons to keep you in custody. The only time this hearing is unnecessary is when you are being held in custody for other reasons — such as a sentence in another case, a parole warrant, or a probation revocation warrant.
When you are facing criminal charges, your choice of legal representation is a critical issue. You must ensure that you have legal representation from a proven attorney with a record of successfully defending difficult cases.
In order to protect your rights and to fight a possible Federal drug conviction, it is very important to hire the Best Federal Lawyer you can find. Your future is at stake, and this is not a time to cut corners. A knowledgeable Drug Crime Defense Lawyer will be able to sort out the details of your drug crime charges and diligently work to provide evidence that will benefit you. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have been successful at lowering or dismissing charges against our clients and will look to do the same for you. To counteract the aggressive investigation and prosecution from the federal government, you will need an equally aggressive criminal defense attorney. Federal Drug Crime Lawyer Charles Johnson understands federal drug crime cases inside and out and will provide an unmatched dedication, commitment and an aggressive approach when defending your case.
Honesty: Defendants often believe it is better not to tell their lawyers the truth about their case. This is not a good idea. Everything you tell your lawyer is privileged and cannot be told to others. The best defense is one that prepares for all the bad evidence the prosecutor may present against you at your trial. Your lawyer must know all the facts. It is foolish to ignore the dangers and simply hope everything will turn out all right. That is the sure way to be convicted.
Bad Advice: If you are in custody, you will probably get a lot of free advice from other inmates. Unfortunately, much of that advice will be wrong. Many of the other inmates are in state custody and know nothing about federal criminal law. Even the ones facing federal charges may give you bad advice; they may not know any better, or they want to mislead you.
Respect: Treat your lawyer with respect and that respect will be returned to you. Lawyers are human beings who tend to work harder for clients who do not mistreat them.
When people talk about “rights” in the federal criminal justice system, they are usually talking about the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. These rights include freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel, due process of law, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, a speedy and public trial, the ability to confront one’s accusers, subpoenas for witnesses, no excessive bail, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
Caselaw: There are many books and thousands of cases that discuss what these rights mean. The law is always changing. A court opinion written in 1934 by a Montana court of appeals is probably no help in your case. Your case will mostly be affected by recent published opinions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
Application: Not all of these rights apply in all cases. If you never made a statement to the police, then it will not matter whether you were told of your right to remain silent. If you consented to a search of your car, then it will not make a difference whether the police had a search warrant.
There are no benefits to being locked up. Jail has many rules and regulations. Some of those rules are made by the jailers. Some of these rules are made by the United States Marshal.
Clothing: You can get clothing two ways. The way to get underwear, tennis shoes, socks, etc, is to buy them through the jail commissary. Despite what others tell you, your lawyer cannot simply bring you these items. In most instances, trial clothing can be brought to the U.S. Marshal’s office shortly before your court appearance. You will be allowed to change in the holding cell at the federal courthouse.
Other Possessions: Sometimes the jail may allow you to receive magazines by subscription or books mailed from a store. It depends on the jail’s rules. Most other items need to be purchased through the commissary. All jails prohibit your lawyer from bringing you any items, such as cigarettes. You may keep legal documents in your possession.
Visits: Your friends and relatives must follow the jail’s rules when making appointments to visit you. You must put the names of these persons on your visitation list.
At some point you will come to court for an arraignment. This is the time when you enter a plea of “Not Guilty”.
Indictment: Before the arraignment, you will have been indicted by a Grand Jury. Neither you, nor your attorney, has a right to be present at the Grand Jury session. A Grand Jury decides if there is enough evidence to have a trial in your case. If there is not, then the case is dismissed. If there is, the Grand Jury issues an Indictment. An Indictment is the document that states what the charges against you are. The Grand Jury sessions are rarely transcribed, so it is usually not possible to receive a transcript of their sessions.
Hearing: The arraignment takesplace before a Magistrate Judge,notthe DistrictJudge who will hear your case. The Magistrate Judge will ask you several questions:
- Do you understand what you are charged with?;
- Do you understand the potential penalties if you are convicted?; and
- How do you plead to the charges?
Since you will have discussed the case with your lawyer by this time, you will be able to answer the first two questions “Yes”. Your answer to the third question is “Not Guilty”. You cannot plead “Guilty” at an arraignment. Pleading “Not Guilty” will never be used against you.
Discovery: Federal law provides only limited access to the government’s evidence against you. Under local rules, you and your attorney are permitted to have copies of only certain types of documents in the government’s file. The rules of discovery must be strictly adhered to, and your attorney will discuss these rules with you more thoroughly as your case progresses.
Motions: Before or after investigating your case, your attorney may feel it appropriate to file a motion(s), which may be heard before or at trial. You should never file your own motions without fully discussing the proper procedures with your attorney. If you have ideas about specific motions that could be filed your case, you should discuss with your attorney whether those particular motions would be appropriate or beneficial to your defense.
Many defendants want a quick trial. This is usually for two reasons. First, defendants who are in custody want to get out of the county jail as soon as possible. Second, defendants believe that if they are not tried within the Speedy Trial Act’s 70-day time limit, then their cases will be dismissed.
Pretrial Detention: There is no question that conditions in the county jail are not good. However, a defendant is rarely ever helped by going to trial as soon as possible. The prosecutor is prepared to try the case when it is filed. Your lawyer is only then beginning to investigate the case. Your lawyer does not have access to offense reports of the law enforcement officers that have already investigated the case. Also, “aging” a case has other benefits — the case becomes less important over time, witnesses’ memories fade, etc.
Dismissal: There are many exceptions to the Speedy Trial Act. Generally, a prosecutor can get a continuance of the trial whenever requested. The usual reason why a prosecutor requests a continuance is because there are codefendants who have not been arrested yet. The speedy trial deadlines do not begin to run until all charged defendants have appeared in court. Also, any time any of the defendants file motions, the time until those motions are decided is not counted toward the speedy trial deadline.
A felony trial in federal court is decided by twelve jurors. The jurors only decide if you are “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” of the charges in the Indictment. Jurors do not decide punishment. The District Judge decides punishment.
Jury Selection: The trial begins with the selection of the jury. A panel of potential jurors is called to court from voter registration lists. The District Judge, the prosecutor, and your lawyer talk to the panel and ask questions. The lawyers are allowed to keep certain members of the panel from sitting on the jury. The first twelve of the remaining panel members become jurors.
Opening Statements: Before the evidence is presented, the lawyers may make opening statements. Opening statements are when the lawyers tell the jury what they believe the evidence will show.
Order of Proof: The prosecutor presents evidence first. You are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You do not have to present any evidence or testify. If your lawyer does put on evidence, it will happen after the prosecutor has finished presenting evidence.
Rules: During the trial, the lawyers must follow the rules of evidence and procedure. These rules are complicated. The rules can both help and hurt you. For instance, the rule against hearsay evidence prohibits a prosecutor from calling a witness to testify how he heard about what you did. The same rule will stop your lawyer from introducing an affidavit made by some person who is unwilling to come to court and testify.
Prior Acts: Although you are only on trial for the charges in the Indictment, there are two ways the jury can learn about other accusations against you. First, if you testify then the prosecutor will be able to introduce your prior convictions. Second, the prosecutor can introduce your prior acts –even if they are not convictions — if they are similar to the crime you are charged with (for example, prior drug sales in a drug distribution case).
Final Arguments: After all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers argue the facts to the jury.
Jury Deliberations: Jurors are usually average working people from the community. They are not specially trained in law. They use their common sense when deciding the case. Although the District Judge will instruct them about “the presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, jurors rely on many things in coming to a decision in a case. Jurors often rely on things such as: the appearance of the defendant, the defendant’s character, and their own biases and prejudices. They cannot be questioned about how they reached their decision.
Verdict: If you are found “Not Guilty”, you will be released. If there is a “Guilty” verdict, then the District Judge will order the Probation Department to prepare a Presentence Investigation Report to assist the District Judge at sentencing. It takes approximately two months between a conviction and sentencing.
Release: If you were previously on pretrial release,the District Judge may continue thatrelease until sentencing, unless you were convicted of a crime of violence or a serious drug trafficking offense.
Statistics show that most defendants plead guilty. You make the decision to plead guilty. That decision is never simple. Some possible benefits of a guilty plea are that:
- the prosecutor may dismiss some charges;
- the prosecutor may not file new charges;
- the prosecutor may recommend a favorable sentence;
- you may get credit for accepting responsibility, etc.
Plea Agreement: Any promises the prosecutor makes for your guilty plea will be stated in a written plea agreement. That agreement is signed by you, your lawyer, and the prosecutor.
Plea Hearing: You must enter a guilty plea in court before the District Judge. The District Judge must ask you many questions so the record shows you understand what you are doing. During the hearing, the prosecutor will briefly tell the District Judge the facts of the case. You must agree to those facts for the District Judge to accept your guilty plea.
Effect of Plea: Once the District Judge accepts your guilty plea, you are just as guilty as if a jury returned that verdict. Once you are convicted of a felony, you lose certain civil rights, including the right to vote; the right to sit on a jury; and the right to possess firearms.
After Plea: The procedure after a guilty plea is the same as after a conviction at trial. A Presentence Investigation Report will be ordered and you will either be released or detained until sentencing (see “Trial” section).
Some defendants give prosecutors information against other persons for the possibility of a reduced sentence. There is no guarantee that a defendant will get a lower sentence for “giving people up”. Cooperation usually requires a defendant to testify in court or before a Grand Jury.
Many times, federal defendants are first arrested by state officers on state charges. Sometimes, even when federal charges are filed, the state charges are not dismissed. It is possible to be convicted of both state and federal charges for the exact same offense. This is not “double jeopardy”. It is also possible to receive “stacked time” (a consecutive sentence), by pleading guilty to an unrelated state or federal case before being convicted in your federal case. Be careful not to do anything about your other cases without telling your attorney. If you are summoned to “jail call”, do not agree to plead guilty to your state charge in exchange for “time served” without telling your lawyer. Despite what the state prosecutor may tell you, this conviction will affect your federal sentence.
Sentencing takes place approximately three (3) -six (6) months after you have been convicted by a jury or guilty plea. The District Judge decides the sentence. Unlike state court, you cannot simply agree with the prosecutor to serve a particular amount of time or probation.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines: The District Judge decides your sentence based upon a book called the “Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual”. That book works on a point system. You get points for the seriousness of the offense and your role in the offense. Points may be subtracted if you accept responsibility for the offense or if you were only a minor participant. The Manual also considers your criminal history. Your criminal history is the record of your prior convictions in state and federal courts. A chart at the back of the Manual determines your sentencing guideline range, based upon your criminal history points and the points you received for the offense conduct.
Mandatory Minimum Punishments: Some drug and firearms cases have mandatory minimum punishments. These minimum punishments apply even if the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would otherwise give you a lower sentence. For instance, anyone possessing over 280 grams of crack cocaine after August 3 2010, with the intent to deliver it, must receive at least ten (10) years in prison; even if that person is a first offender.
Departures: If the District Judge sentences you to more or less time than your sentencing guideline range, it is called a “departure”. Departures are unusual. The District Judge must have a good legal reason for a departure. The District Judge cannot depart downward below a mandatory minimum punishment, unless the reason is that you have provided substantial assistance to the government in the prosecution of others or you qualify for the “safety valve” provision as a first offender. Only drug cases qualify for the “safety valve”.
Presentence Investigation Report: Before the sentencing hearing,the District Judge will review a Presentence Investigation Report prepared by a Probation Officer. That report summarizes the offense conduct, your criminal history, and other relevant background information about you. Most importantly, the report calculates a range of punishment for the District Judge to consider in your case. The Probation Officer creates the report based upon information from the prosecutor, independent investigation, and an interview with you in the presence of your lawyer.
Interview: It is important to be honest with the Probation Officer at the presentence interview. If you mislead the officer you may increase your sentence for “obstruction of justice”. Also, you will not get credit for accepting responsibility unless you talk truthfully about your crime. Do not talk about any other conduct for which you have not been convicted, unless your lawyer tells you to.
Objections: Before the District Judge gets the Presentence Investigation Report, it will be sent to your lawyer. The probation office will also mail a copy directly to you for your inspection. Review it carefully. If there is anything incorrect about the report, your lawyer can file objections. Some mistakes are more important than others. If the report says your car is red rather than blue, that is probably not important. If the report says you have five (5) prior felonies when you do not, that is important.
Sentencing Hearing: At the sentencing hearing, the District Judge will review your objections to the Presentence Investigation Report and make findings about any facts or legal issues that cannot be agreed upon. Your lawyer will address the legal issues and point out the facts in your favor. District Judges do not want to hear from witnesses who are just there to plead for a reduced sentence. Letters of recommendation and other helpful evidence should be provided to your lawyer well before sentencing so the District Judge can see them before the hearing. Before the District Judge pronounces sentence, you can make a statement.
Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences: No area of law is more confusing to defendants and lawyers than whether multiple sentences (more than one) may be served at the same time (concurrent) or one after another (consecutive).
Present Charges: If your federal Indictment has several related charges, and you are convicted of them, you probably will serve these sentences at the same time. However, it is possible for the District Judge to “stack” unrelated convictions so each must be served before another begins.
Other Charges: Sometimes a defendant is already serving a sentence before being convicted in a federal court. Unless the District Judge specifically orders the new sentence to run at the same time as the previous sentence, they will be stacked and will run consecutively. You would have to finish your other sentence before the new one begins. Even if the District Judge runs the new sentence at the same time as your previous sentence, you will not get credit for the time you served prior to sentencing.
If you were on release until sentencing, you may be allowed voluntary surrender. This means about 45 days later you report directly to the federal prison designated for sentence. Otherwise, you would go directly into custody if you received a prison sentence.
An appeal is not a new trial. An appeal is a review of your case by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. You may only appeal after you have been sentenced. A notice of appeal must be filed within 10 days after judgment (your sentencing order) is entered, or you lose that right. Transcripts of all testimony, and all the legal documents in your case, are sent to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals decides whether the District Judge made any mistakes in ruling on the law in your case. If the Court of Appeals decides there were some important mistakes made by the District Judge in your case, the usual remedy is that you will be allowed to have a new trial or a new sentence. That is called a “reversal”. It does not happen often. It is nearly impossible to be released while your appeal is being decided. The decision to appeal should be made only after a careful discussion with your lawyer. The Fifth Circuit is strict about accepting cases that raise legitimate issues. A claim that you received “too much time” will not prevail in the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit will dismiss your appeal if you do not present an issue they consider meritorious. Also, you and your lawyer can be sanctioned (punished) if you present a “frivolous” issue on appeal.
Probation means your term of imprisonment is suspended, you must follow restrictive conditions, and report to a probation officer. Probation is not available for federal drug trafficking crimes. Except for minor fraud cases, most federal defendants do not get probation. “Shock Incarceration” or “Boot Camp” is not probation. That is a military discipline program followed by time in a halfway house. It is available mostly to young, nonviolent, first-time offenders.
Most defendants who are sentenced to prison go directly into custody or continue to remain in custody. Where the sentence will be served depends on several factors.
State Custody: If the reason you first came into custody was a state charge, parole warrant, or probation revocation warrant, then you are in state custody, not federal custody. Neither the United States Marshal, nor the District Judge, has the authority to take you from state custody so that you may begin serving your sentence in a federal institution. This means you will remain in the county jail, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, until your State of Texas (or whatever other jurisdiction you owe time) sentence is completely served. Even if you got a federal sentence that is to run at the same time as your previous sentences (see “Sentencing” section), you will do that time in the other jurisdiction’s prison.
Jail Credit: In the federal system, the district judge does not have the authority to award jail credit at your sentencing hearing. See United States v. Wilson , 112 S.Ct. 1351 (1992); 18 U.S.C. §3585(b). Under the statute giving a defendant convicted of federal crime the right to be credited for time spent in official detention before sentence begins, the Attorney General is required to compute credit after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence, rather than the district court at time of sentencing. Statute giving defendant convicted of federal crime right to receive credit for time spent in official detention before sentence begins does not authorize district court to award credit at sentencing.
Federal Custody: You are in federal custody if you were brought in on a federal warrant. It does not matter that you are being held in the county jail or that state charges or revocations are later filed. It is always better to be in federal custody, because the State of Texas will give you credit for serving your state sentences no matter who has custody of you.
Designation: If you are in federal custody, then a federal institution must be designated for your sentence. This designation takes about one (1) month and is made by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During that month, you will probably remain in a county jail. The decision about where you will go depends upon the seriousness of the crime, your criminal history, the location of your family, among other things. A recommendation by the District Judge to send you to a particular place is not binding on the Bureau of Prisons.
Good Time Credit: The Bureau of Prisons can give you up to 54 days a year of “Good Time Credit”. This is time subtracted from your sentence. The credit is a privilege for good behavior, not a right. It does not begin to be counted until after your first year in prison.
Release: There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system. You will serve the majority of your sentence, minus Good Time Credit. You will receive a term of supervised release that begins after you are released. Like probation or parole, supervised release means you have to follow rules and report back to a probation officer. Violating supervised release can mean going back to prison.
You must use your own judgment about writing letters. You should not write about the facts of your case to anyone other than your lawyer. If you have any questions about your case or suggestions about it, you should contact your attorney immediately.
Federal Drug Charges in Houston, TX
Houston is in a unique position because of its convenient location. It is a criminal hotbed for illegal drug activity and because of its reputation, law enforcement; the FBI and the DEA are on high alert when it comes to detecting and convicting those guilty of trafficking or other federal drug crimes. Because drug activity is so rampant in Texas, the state has exceptionally harsh penalties for those who commit federal drug crimes. How one is prosecuted will depend on whether or not they have any priors on their record, the type of drug, and the quantity. A prison sentence for a federal drug crime can be as little as five years or it can be as long as life in prison.
The state of Texas has long been involved in a “war on drugs.” Federal prosecutors in the state of Texas come down hard on criminals involved in selling, distributing and trafficking large amounts of drugs. Not only do you face years in prison if convicted, non-citizens face deportation from the United States. At The Charles Johnson Law Firm, we are here to defend you against Federal Drug Charges.
Houston Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson comprehends the differential factor between State and Federal drug crimes. If in fact you or a loved one are under investigation for a drug crime, or if you have been apprehended for or charged with a drug crime in Texas or Houston, you could face harsher punishment than you expect. If you or a loved one’s alleged crime is based upon large amounts of illegal drugs, transporting or distributing drugs over state lines or over and across the border, or other specific details, you could face federal drug crime charges rather than state charges.
The significant thing to know pertaining federal drug crimes is that a conviction will carry a much harsher punishment, a longer mandatory at the very least sentence, and the possibility of no bond or bail. Attorney Johnson defends cases at the Federal Level that involve drug crimes such as:
- Federal drug trafficking
- Federal drug manufacturing
- Federal drug sales and distribution
- Internet drug distribution
- Federal drug importation and transportation
- Mailing drugs over and across state lines or national borders
- Drug smuggling into or out of the United States
- Other crimes related to drugs and money laundering
Contact Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson anytime night or day to discuss your case. You can speak with him directly by calling (713) 222-7577. If in fact you or a loved one think you are part of a federal drug investigation, don’t wait to contact a lawyer you can trust. Rest assured that The Charles Johnson Law Firm will zealously defend you against any type of Federal Drug Charge.
Download “Arrested for Federal Drug Charges? Get Expert Counsel From Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson” in PDF Format
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Charles Johnson |
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The Federal crime of Money Laundering is traditionally understood to be the practice of filtering “dirty” money, or ill-gotten gains, through a series of transactions until the funds are “clean,” or appear to be proceeds from legal activities. The United States Criminal Code takes a broader stance towards money laundering, and criminalizes knowingly engaging in a broad array of financial transactions that involve money either derived from or meant to promote various illegal activities, or that involve certain elements of deception. While money laundering charges are often perceived as related with drug crimes, they are more frequently related with business-related crimes. For example, money laundering charges may be associated with illegal funds obtained through business fraud, mortgage fraud/real estate fraud schemes or other white collar crimes.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm represents individuals and institutions in matters such as:
- Hiding money
- Failing to file require cash transaction reports
- Making multiple cash withdrawals or deposits slightly below the $10,000 reporting threshold
- Evading taxes by underreporting income
- Alleged Patriot Act violations
- Illegal wire transfers
- Financial transactions involving proceeds of unlawful activity
- Other illegal transactions
- Federal criminal appeals involving money laundering
Such activities are often viewed by federal prosecutors as indicators of money laundering. Houston Money Laundering Lawyer Charles Johnson will provide a vigorous defense of clients who have drawn scrutiny from the federal government for their financial transactions. If the government is able to make the case that your financial transactions were an effort to “launder” money received from criminal activities such as drug trafficking or weapons trafficking, you will face forfeiture of your assets. Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson is available to speak with you directly about your case, anytime night or day, at (713) 222-7577 if you have been charged with or are being investigated for Money Laundering.
Overview of Money Laundering in Texas
Although money laundering can be a complex process, it usually involves three distinct steps that can occur simultaneously or sequentially. These steps are referred to as (1) Placement, (2) Layering, and (3) Integration.
- Placement is the initial process of getting illegal funds into “the system,” or placing unlawful proceeds into legitimate financial institutions. A common technique used for placement is structuring, or “smurfing,” which involves dividing the funds into multiple deposits of cash that are below reporting thresholds and then depositing the funds at one or more institutions, using one or more individuals to make the deposits. Placement may also be accomplished by purchasing money orders or travelers checks at one institution and depositing them into accounts at other institutions.
- Layering is the process of converting funds after they have entered the legitimate system. This step involves a series of complex financial transactions that move the funds in order to distance them from their illegal source. For example, dirty money may be converted to clean money through the purchase and sale of stocks, bonds, art, or jewelry. It may also be wired as payment for non-existent goods, disbursement to a non-existent borrower, or simply a transfer to another account.
- Integration is the process in which the illegal funds re-enter the legitimate economy and become virtually indistinguishable from legal funds. The newly cleaned funds, often commingled with legitimate funds, are then ready for use, be it in investing in real estate, purchasing luxury items, or financing business ventures.
Common elements that drive the efforts of money launderers throughout this three step process include “the need to conceal the origin and true ownership of the proceeds, the need to maintain control of the proceeds, and the need to change the form of the proceeds in order to shrink the huge volumes of cash generated by the initial criminal activity.” It is important, when reviewing literature on money laundering, to be aware that a conviction for the crime of money laundering may not necessarily reflect activity that would traditionally be understood to constitute money laundering. For example, someone who buys legitimate goods online commits money laundering, under the federal statute, if the supplier is outside of the country and the supplies are intended to facilitate one of several crimes — even if the product is itself legal and is being used in a legal way. (For example, purchasing napkins in such a way would be money laundering, if they were to be used by an illegal casino.)
Identifying and verifying money laundering is a difficult task, partly because of the complexities of the multi-transactional process but also because of the legal, political, and economic barriers that interfere with and often completely prevent investigation or enforcement of U.S. law outside of U.S. borders. Some of these barriers are reduced through the use of “memoranda of understanding” (MOUs), or mutual agreements — between agencies or officials of different nations — to exchange information and cooperate in criminal investigations. However, not all nations enter into these or other cooperative agreements. Examples of these instances include Nauru, Myanmar, and Nigeria.
Costs and Statistics
There is no clear picture of the actual amount of money laundered globally. Estimates based on reported crimes will tend to underestimate the figure, and estimates based on the size of the underground economy will tend to overestimate the actual amount. Synthesizing a variety of sources, the International Monetary Fund cites figure of between ¾ of a percent to 2 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, when using the reported crime method and 5 to 85 percent of a nation’s economy (depending on the nation) when using the underground economy method. These two figures can be found in other sources, roughly combined to give a range of 2-5 percent of the world’s GDP. In 1996, the 2-5 percent formula yielded between 590 billion and 1.5 trillion dollars. This figure is relatively often quoted as being the range of the magnitude of the money laundering problem (sometimes “rounded up” to 600 billion)- such as by the FBI. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has also been quoted as estimating that “$600 billion represents a conservative estimate of the amount of money laundered each year.” Using 2005’s world GDP of 59.6 trillion, the 2-5% approach would give one a figure of between 1.2 and 3 trillion dollars. Of course, the research that provided the main support for the 2-5% figure is itself a decade old, and money laundering has become an issue commanding much greater legislative, regulative, and law enforcement attention in the wake of September 11th. In fiscal year 2001, federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. seized more than $300 million in criminal assets that were attributable to money laundering. In 2001, U.S. district courts completed 1,420 money laundering cases and convicted 1,243 individuals, or more than 87 percent of the defendants prosecuted. Some of these cases involved more than $100 million in laundered funds, and one-fifth of the cases involved more than $1 million. Of the Money Laundering Control Act charges made in 2001, 63 percent involved fraud, bank embezzlement, transporting stolen property, and counterfeiting, and 16 percent involved drug trafficking. Almost half (44 percent) of the money laundering cases referred to U.S. Attorneys in 2001 occurred in the six geographic areas designated by the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Treasury as areas of high risk for financial crimes and money laundering activity (High Intensity Financial Crime Areas or HIFCAs). These areas are (with the year designated a HIFCA)
- New York and Northern New Jersey – (2000)
- Los Angeles – (2000)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico – (2000)
- The southwest Texas and Arizona/Mexico border – (2000)
- The northern district of Illinois (Chicago) – (2001)
- The northern district of California (San Francisco) – (2001)
- Southern Florida (Miami) – (2003)
High Profile Examples/Case Studies
In 2006, Charles E. Edwards was sentenced to 13 years in prison and was ordered to pay $320,397,837 in restitution following his September conviction on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The evidence showed that from 1996 through September 2000, Edwards, the founder of ETS Payphones, Inc. (ETS), raised capital to grow his coin-operated payphone business by using a network of independent insurance agents to sell payphones to investors throughout the United States for $5,000 to $7,000 per phone. Edwards convinced investors to buy payphones and lease them back to ETS for what Edwards claimed would be a guaranteed profit of approximately 14 percent per year. The scheme defrauded approximately 12,000 nationwide investors out of more than $400 million. Edwards siphoned off approximately $21 million of the fraud proceeds for himself and his wife. In addition, the evidence showed that Edwards engaged in a series of unusual and convoluted financial transactions, which served no legitimate business purpose and were intended solely to conceal and disguise the source, location, ownership, nature, and control of the proceeds involved in those transactions.In 2006, Edmundo P. Rubi was sentenced to 70 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. Rubi previously pled guilty to the charge that he conspired to conduct a scheme to defraud investors out of more than $12 million using his companies, Knights Express, Ltd. and Djmler Enterprises, Inc. Rubi was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $12,483,000. According to the plea agreement, beginning in 1999 and continuing up to October 31, 2001, Rubi formed and operated Knights Express Ltd. and Djmler Enterprises, Inc. for the purpose of soliciting investments from members of the public. In connection with his guilty plea, Rubi admitted that he made fraudulent representations that investor funds would be used to purchase and resell Federal Reserve notes in an international trading program. In actuality, no such international trading program existed. Millions of dollars of investor funds were used instead to pay the periodic returns that investors received and to make unsecured investments. Rubi also intentionally concealed from investors the fact that millions of dollars of investor funds were converted for his own personal use and benefit.The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York completed in 2002 a “long-term investigation targeting the money laundering and narcotics activities of the Khalil Kharfan Organization operating in Colombia, Puerto Rico, Florida, and the New York Tri-State area.” Initial statements by the agencies indicated that more than $100 million in narcotics proceeds were laundered in the scheme. The organization used members to open fictitious businesses, which they used for the deposit and transfer of money between countries. Approximately $1 million has been recovered.In 2002, a California jury convicted two principals in a Costa Rican tax evasion-money laundering ring. Wayne Anderson, 62, and Richard Marks, 58, were arrested in one of the largest undercover stings in IRS history. The two men were charged with conspiracy to launder $470,000, mostly through offshore trusts that concealed millions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers who wanted to evade U.S. taxes. The case resulted in seven federal convictions. “A Nashville, Tennessee man was sentenced to 20 years in jail for his three-year role in a large-scale cocaine distribution and money laundering organization in the Nashville area. The individual pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The defendant used several vehicles with sophisticated hidden compartments to transport the cocaine and the proceeds to pay for it back and forth between Chicago and Nashville.” “On June 21, 2002 a federal jury in North Carolina convicted Mohamad Hammoud and his brother Chawki, Lebanese immigrants, for providing material support to the terrorist group Hezbollah through racketeering, conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit money laundering by funneling profits from a cigarette smuggling operation. In March 2002, several of the Hammoud’s co-defendants pled guilty in North Carolina federal court to racketeering, conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit money laundering for funneling profits from their cigarette smuggling operation to purchase military equipment for the Hezbollah terrorists. The case began when the West Virginia State Police seized a significant quantity of contraband cigarettes. The Federal indictment alleged that millions of dollars worth of cigarettes were smuggled out of North Carolina to resell in States, including Michigan, where higher State taxes greatly increase the sales price.”
The Response/Current Efforts
Legislation and Regulation The U. S. has imposed a number of legislative and regulatory standards to deter money laundering. The most significant of these are the following:
- The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), signed into law in October 1970, implemented a reporting system for large financial transactions (over $10,000) to monitor and deter the flow of criminally obtained proceeds. (Codified 31 U.S.C. §§ 5311-5330)
- The Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 amended the BSA and specifically made money laundering – spending, saving, transporting, or transmitting proceeds of criminal activity – a federal felony. (Codified 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957)
- The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 increased the penalties and sanctions for money laundering crimes and amended the money laundering provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1956 to include financial transactions with the intent to violate § 7201 (attempted tax evasion) or § 7206 (false tax return) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C.). (Pub. L. 100-690)
- The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act identified violations of money laundering statues as “predicate offenses” that constitute racketeering activity and provided for both civil and criminal actions against violators. (Codified 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968)
- The Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Strategy Act of 1998 required that the Secretary of the Treasury coordinate and implement a national strategy to address money laundering. (Pub. L. 105-310)
- The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 established new rules and responsibilities affecting financial institutions and commercial businesses to prevent, detect, and prosecute terrorism and international money laundering. For example, the Act required banks to actively monitor customer transactions, expanded the ability of public and private institutions to share information, and increased civil and criminal penalties for money laundering. (Pub. L. 107-56)
Current Efforts To Reduce Money Laundering In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) completed Operation Mallorca, an investigation into the use of the Columbian Black Market Peso Exchange to launder drug money. Operation Mallorca resulted in the arrest of 36 individuals and the seizure of 7.2 million dollars, 947 kilograms of cocaine, 7 kilograms of heroin, and 21,650 pounds of marijuana. In 2005, the multinational Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force completed Operation Cyber Chase, an investigation that targeted illegal Internet pharmacies. These pharmacies used more than 200 websites to sell controlled substances internationally and to launder the proceeds. Just one of the organizations involved used this system of web-based distribution to move approximately 2.5 million dosage units of Schedule II-V pharmaceuticals (including Vicodin, amphetamines, and anabolic steroids) permonth. “Operation Wire Cutter,” a two and a half year joint effort of U.S. and Colombian law enforcement, uncovered a massive money laundering operation for several Colombian narcotics cartels that channeled money through New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Juan, and Puerto Rico using the Black Market Peso Exchange. The efforts resulted in 37 arrests – 29 in the U.S. and eight in Colombia – as well as the seizure of more than $8 million, 400 kilos of cocaine, 100 kilos of marijuana, 6.5 kilos of heroin, nine firearms, and six vehicles. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, efforts to reduce money laundering – throughout the world – have increased significantly, with particular attention paid to associations with terrorist activities. Effective September 24, 2001, for example, President Bush issued Executive Order 13224, “blocking property and prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism.” Initially, 27 individuals and organizations were identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entities under Executive Order 13224. By June 6, 2003, 282 individuals and organizations had been identified as SDGTs, and over $137 million in associated assets had been frozen worldwide. In July 2002, the second National Money Laundering Strategy issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury pointedly addressed the issue of money laundering as “integral to the war on terrorism.” Specifically, the strategy (1) presented “government’s first plan to attack financing networks of terrorist entities” and (2) focused on “the use of charities and other non-governmental organizations to raise, collect, and distribute funds to terrorist groups.”
Penalties for Money Laundering Charges in Texas
Money laundering refers to the process of concealing financial transactions. Various laundering techniques can be employed by individuals, groups, officials and corporations. The goal of a money laundering operation is usually to hide either the source or the destination of money in connection with a criminal act.
Money laundering is a white collar crime that will be investigated by many different sources including: local, state and federal investigators that may also include the Department of Justice, the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A person can be charged with money laundering if suspected of receiving, concealing, possessing, transferring, transporting or having any interest in the proceeds of criminal activity. In fact a money laundering charge can be filed against a person that has almost anything at all to do with the proceeds of a criminal act. In Texas, money laundering charges have varied penalties depending on the amounts involved:
- Value from $3000 to $19,999 = third degree felony (2-10 years in prison plus a hefty fine if convicted)
- Value from $20,000 to $99,999 = second degree felony (2-20 years in prison plus a hefty fine if convicted)
- Value from $100,000 and up = first degree felony (5 to life years in prison plus a hefty fine if convicted)
There are several different types of money laundering charges you can face. Some are more serious than others and could result in severe punishments and steep fines. In fact, if you are convicted of money laundering, you could be forced to pay a fine up to twice the amount of the total dollar amount of funds involved in the illegal activity.
It is important that you contact Houston White Collar Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson as soon as you are aware of charges against you or a loved one. If you are confronted with federal charges, you will want an experienced attorney who is familiar with federal court procedure as it is quite different from the state court process. Attorney Charles Johnson is well-versed in both federal and state law and court procedure. No matter what your money laundering charges or other white collar crime charges entail, you can trust that he will prepare a solid defense on your behalf.
Defenses for Money Laundering Charges in Texas
- Absence of intent to commit a crime — Most crimes require intent to commit the crime. In terms of money laundering, people who are accountants, bankers, or others who deal with large amounts of money are often charged with money laundering without even knowing they committed a crime. If you can prove you were unaware the money obtained was illegal, then there is no way you can have intent to commit money laundering.
- Duress — Duress occurs when a person truly believes there will be some danger or harm if they do not participate in the crime. In money laundering, criminals often force accountants or bankers to launder illegally obtained money or else be subjected to harm. If this is the case, you will have a good duress defense (as the banker or accountant).
- Insufficient evidence — A criminal charge can be dismissed if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. In money laundering, an intention to prevent illegally obtained funds from being traced to its origin is required for a conviction. A conviction also requires proving the money laundered came from a specific illegal activity. If one of these two things is missing, then there is a possibility this defense will work.
The main defense to Money Laundering is the defendant’s lack of knowledge that the funds were from an unlawful activity. Attorney Charles Johnson may be able to establish that you did not intend to promote unlawful activity or that the transaction was not designed to conceal the unlawful activity. This is usually a valid defense when a person is merely an employee of a business, or a non-involved partner who is basically “duped” into managing a business whose proceeds are the result of an illegal activity. This defense can be supported with evidence from the company’s financial statements or accounting records showing material misrepresentation or omissions, committed by someone else other than the defendant. Many times one devious business partner will ask another partner to “sign off” on certain loan documents or tax returns without telling the defendant that the information contained therein is false misleading. Just because a defendant has signed off on paperwork that might be designed to cover up the source of money or funds does not mean the defendant actually knew about the source of the funds. It is important to interview all of the parties involved to ascertain the defendant’s good character and honesty and lack of control over this area of the company’s finances, and to emphasize the partner’s bad character. Another defense is tracing the funds involved in the transactions and proving that these specific funds did not fund, nor were the proceeds of, any unlawful activity. The defenses for Money Laundering are quite complex (as are all white collar cases) and involve many hours of records research by attorneys and expert witnesses. It is often beneficial to utilize a “forensic accountant” to also go through the documents in order to defend against the Government’s allegations.
Additionally, because the Charles Johnson Law Firm fights conviction from all angles, they will assert a wide range of defenses and challenges to constitutional violations that apply in all criminal cases. The possibilities are numerous and diverse. One of those is the “denial of right to Counsel”. This occurs when a suspect is in custody and requests to speak to their attorney, but is denied and questioning continues. Other defenses may include challenging the validity of any search warrant, or whether there were any “forensic flaws” during the investigation of your case. Depending on what else you have been charged with, this could include exposing flawed procedures regarding fingerprints analysis; computer analysis/cloning hard drive procedures; GPS tracking monitors; forensic financial accounting reviews; etc.. Lastly, one of the most common defense tactics is exposing sloppy or misleading police reports which include everything from misstatements, false statements, flawed photo line-ups and inaccurate crime scene reconstruction. It is important to hire a skilled Money Laundering lawyer to defend you who has knowledge of all the possible defenses to assert in your case. While related charges can further complicate a money laundering defense or other type of case, it is important to remember that just because you have been accused, doesn’t mean you are guilty. Contact Houston White Collar Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson immediately for your free phone consultation. Attorney Johnson will take your call 24/7 365 days/year at (713) 222-7577 to discuss your case. Put his knowledge to work for you.
Hire the Best Houston Money Laundering Lawyer: Houston White Collar Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson
At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, our attorneys possess the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully defend individuals facing federal money laundering charges. Unless you retain counsel who will aggressively investigate the matter on your behalf, you may have a poor chance of avoiding a lengthy prison term among other severe consequences. Money laundering is a serious offense with potential long-term consequences including jail time.When your future is at stake, contact the Leading Houston Criminal Lawyer at the Charles Johnson Law Firm. You can reach Attorney Johnson directly anytime night or day at (713) 222-7577.
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News Stories Related to Money Laundering Arrests in Houston:
Mother, son arrested, accused of money laundering
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KHOU - Nov 09 2013
U.S. agents make Mexican drug, money laundering arrests in Texas
The FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the four-year probe into the Texas Mexican Mafia netted 25 members and associates of the prison gang during operations primarily in Laredo, Texas, the busiest land port along the U.S.-Mexico ...
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Drug trafficking is generally referred to as the manufacturing, transporting and distributing of large quantities of drugs. It often involves more than one person. Drug trafficking charges are wide and varied depending on the scope of the trafficking. Additionally, if the drug trafficking was directed towards minors, then prosecutors will seek enhancements to the charges. State and federal governments have adopted strict laws and severe penalties regarding the trafficking of drugs. Penalties can approach seven figures and decades in prison for severe cases. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson has proven how to successfully approach and handle these types of cases and he should be contacted immediately when an arrest is made for drug trafficking.
Drug Trafficking is probably the most charged offense in federal court and is also quite prevalent in state courts. Because of the severity of the sentences, evidence and all circumstances and conditions regarding your arrest will be thoroughly examined by the Charles Johnson Law Firm and their team of experienced investigators. Drug trafficking cases can be quite involved, and with the vast amounts of drugs coming in from Mexico, prosecutors are aggressively pursuing convictions.
Types of Drug Trafficking Laws
Drug trafficking laws vary by country and region, but generally include distribution, manufacturing, and dispensing certain categories of controlled substances. Usually, the drugs are classified according to type and the addictive nature of the drug. Highly addictive narcotics like heroin and crack typically fall into one class, while marijuana and prescription drugs are considered less harmful. International drug trafficking laws are commonly handled under customs law.
Possession of drugs with the intent to sell routinely falls under drug trafficking statutes. If someone is found with a large amount of narcotics, it may be presumed that he or she intends to distribute the drugs for money. Different regions determine how much and what kind of drug is considered outside limits for personal use. Penalties for violations of these drug trafficking laws are often based on the quantity of the substance and its type.
Those who manufacture drugs may be charged under drug trafficking laws in most places. These sections of the law typically include possession of chemicals or equipment needed to make the controlled substance. Narcotics laws in each country outline the exact chemicals or equipment considered illegal.
Drug trafficking laws may include a provision that allows law enforcement to seize assets used to commit a crime. For example, if drugs are sold from a house or vehicle, a judge may order that those assets be forfeited to the government. The property is typically sold at a public auction, with the proceeds going to fund narcotics operations.
Almost any scheduled narcotic can qualify for a drug trafficking charge. In state courts the amount of drugs (cocaine, cannabis, extasy, crystal meth, acid, heroine, prescription medication) will determine if a possession charges becomes a trafficking charge. Even if you are only going to used the drugs for your personal consumption, the amount that you possess could bring a trafficking charge. You may also qualify for a distribution charge if it appears that a small amount of drugs was packaged for distribution. Each state is different as to the amount necessary for the trafficking charge. Under the federal statute you can be charged for the amount you have and or the amount you were trying to buy from a government agent. You may never actually possess the drugs, but you will be charged.
Supplying drugs to children or using minors to distribute narcotics generally carries tougher penalties than those that apply to adults. In some areas, maintaining a home for the purpose of making or distributing drugs where children live is also considered a more serious drug trafficking offense. Stiffer sanctions might also be imposed for those who sell drugs near schools, playgrounds, arcades, and other areas where children congregate.
Laws also exist that regulate drug trafficking by criminal gangs or organized groups. Penalties might be enhanced if weapons are used in the distribution of a controlled substance. Those with profits from organized sales of narcotics can also be prosecuted under money laundering statutes in some jurisdictions.
Defenses for Drug Trafficking Charges
Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will provide skilled advice and representation to clients facing state or federal drug charges. He is considered an expert when defending against charges related to:
- Interception of a drug shipment
- Drug conspiracy charges
- Interstate drug distribution
- Undercover interstate trafficking stings
- Illegal sale and trafficking of prescription drugs
- Illegal sale and trafficking of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth), MDMA (Ecstasy)
Drug trafficking charges often hinge on the prosecution’s illegal search and seizure of your vehicle, undercover drug operations, and confidential informants who are attempting to make a deal. As an expert lawyer skilled in drug cases, Attorney Johnson will thoroughly investigate how the prosecution came upon the evidence collected and determine if the method of collecting the evidence is in violation of your constitutional rights.
The court will have no choice but to keep any illegally obtained evidence out of trial. Attorney Johnson’s ability to thoroughly investigate drug cases and vigorously challenge the factual and constitutional merits of the prosecution’s case has proven effective in his defense of clients facing drug trafficking charges involving cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth) or prescription narcotics.
Even if the police find drugs directly in a person’s possession, the drugs and other evidence could be suppressed (thrown away) if the police did not follow the proper procedures required under the U.S. Constitution. One of the first things Attorney Johnson will look for when defending someone accused of a drug offense is whether the police themselves acted in a legal manner. Other defenses include areas such as whether the actual weight of the substance was correct when allowing for hydration, whether the chemical composition of the substance was correct as charged, whether there was joint or constructive possession of the substance which could subject the case to a Motion to Dismiss and whether the accused was entrapped into committing the offense by law enforcement or one of its informants.
Another possible defense for drug trafficking charges would involve a violation of constitutional right to counsel and right to remain silent. Once charged or in custody, you are required to be informed of your rights and given access to legal representation if you request it. Contact Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson immediately upon arrest before saying anything that could be used against you in the future. This can often mean the difference between a conviction and walking away free of any charges. You would be surprised at how many cases result in a conviction due largely to statements made by the accused.
Other possible defenses may include:
- Lack of knowledge
- Mistake of fact (For example, thinking the drug was sugar when in fact, it was cocaine.)
- Duress (For example, if Bob was forced to transport the cocaine because if he refused, something bad would happen to his family.)
- The substance was not intended for human consumption
Lastly, Attorney Johnson will determine if inappropriate charges were filed. Drug trafficking is a highly political issue, and you may find yourself facing inflated charges. The right attorney can insure that any charges you do face are appropriate to the acts alleged by the prosecutor.
At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have the experience and know-how to guide you through this complicated process from the moment of your arrest through trial, if necessary.
The defense of drug-related crimes can be difficult and complex and requires an attorney with special skills, experience and knowledge. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is highly qualified to defend your case. Whether it is identifying a drug addiction issue so that we may assist in getting them treatment or counseling, negotiating a fair resolution in an effort to have charges or a sentence reduced or preparing and taking a case to trial, the Best Houston Criminal Lawyer is available to assist and defend you.
As an extremely experienced criminal lawyer specializing in drug cases at both the Federal and State level, Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is well aware of the strategies, theories and methods employed by prosecutors when they prosecute a drug case. Attorney Johnson will use this knowledge to his client’s advantage while defending their cases to get the best possible outcome on their behalf.
We are proud to represent and care about our clients. We know the devastation that a drug conviction, an addiction or incarceration for a drug offense can bring to an individual or his/her family. We will answer your questions and guide you through the whole process, working to take away some of the confusion and uncertainty that comes along any drug offense charge, while all along seeking the most favorable outcome for you or your loved one.
Drug Trafficking by Criminal Gangs
There are nearly 1 million active gang members in the United States, based on analysis of federal, state, and local data, and the involvement of criminal gangs in domestic drug trafficking is becoming increasingly complex. Since 2001, many gangs have advanced beyond their traditional role as local retail drug distributors in large cities to become more organized, adaptable, deliberate, and influential in large-scale drug trafficking. Much of their growing influence has come at the expense of local independent dealers and small local criminal groups who cannot compete with gangs that establish control in smaller drug markets.
The influence of Hispanic and African American street gangs is expanding as these gangs gain greater control over drug distribution in rural and suburban areas and acquire drugs directly from Drug Trafficking Organizations (“DTOs”) in Mexico or along the Southwest Border.
In 2009, midlevel and retail drug distribution in the United States was dominated by more than 900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 domestic street gangs in more than 2,500 cities. These street gangs vary greatly with respect to their ethnic or racial identities, the types and amounts of drugs that they distribute, their strength and influence, and their adaptability. Their prevalence varies geographically, with the greatest concentration of street gangs occurring in the Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, and Southwest Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Regions.
Many Hispanic and, to a lesser extent, African American gangs are gaining control over drug distribution outside urban areas that were previously supplied by local independent dealers or small local criminal groups. Around 2007, Hispanic and African American gangs throughout the country, but especially in the Southwest and Great Lakes Regions, began to command greater influence over drug distribution in many rural and suburban areas. This trend continued in 2009. For example, in 2009, the Avenues street gang based in Los Angeles, California, expanded its operations to distribute drugs in suburban and rural locations throughout southern California.
To increase their control over drug trafficking in smaller markets, street gangs have been increasingly acquiring larger wholesale quantities of drugs at lower prices directly from DTOs in Mexico and along the Southwest Border. Several Southwest Border street gangs, such as Shelltown 38th Street, Tri-City Bombers, and Vallucos, smuggle wholesale quantities of drugs obtained in Mexico into the United States. By purchasing directly from Mexican wholesale sources in Mexico or along the Southwest Border, gangs throughout the country realize cost savings that enable them to sell drugs at lower prices than local independent dealers in small communities, driving these dealers out of business. For example, members of the Chicago-based Latin Kings street gang who operate in Midland, Texas, purchase cocaine from Mexican traffickers in south Texas for $16,000 to $18,000 per kilogram, compared with $25,000 to $35,000 per kilogram from wholesale traffickers in Chicago. With this savings, the gang undersells other local dealers who do not have the capacity to buy large wholesale quantities directly from Mexican DTOs in Mexico or along the Southwest Border.
Hispanic prison gangs, primarily in Southwest Border states, are gaining strength by working directly with Mexican DTOs to acquire wholesale quantities of drugs and by controlling most street gangs in areas along the Southwest Border.
Prison gangs are active in all 50 states and are increasing their influence over drug trafficking in areas along the Southwest Border (see Table B4 in Appendix B). Prior to 2001, the criminal influence of prison gangs was limited primarily to retail-level drug distribution. However, since that time, Hispanic prison gangs have become increasingly involved in the transportation and wholesale distribution of drugs.
Hispanic prison gangs such as Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL) and Raza Unida operating in Southwest Border states have increased their involvement in wholesale drug distribution activities through cooperative relationships with Mexican DTOs. Through these relationships, Hispanic prison gangs are able to gain access to wholesale quantities of drugs. For example, in September 2009, 21 members of HPL were convicted in the Southern District of Texas (Houston) of conspiring to distribute more than 150 kilograms of cocaine and laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds. In April 2009, 15 members and associates of the Raza Unida prison gang were indicted for trafficking multikilogram quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine weekly in McAllen and Houston, Texas.
To ensure a consistent profit stream from the wholesale drugs that they purchase from Mexican DTOs, Hispanic prison gangs distribute drugs through street gangs that they largely, if not entirely, control. Through force or intimidation, Hispanic prison gangs exercise significant control over local gangs that distribute their drugs in the Southwest Border region. For example, Barrio Azteca prison gang members operating in El Paso, Texas, collect drug payments and taxes from 47 street-level gangs and independent drug dealers trafficking drugs in El Paso.
Potential Penalties for Drug Trafficking
The penalties for drug trafficking offenses vary and depend on a number of factors. These include the type and amount of illegal drugs (also called “controlled substances”) found in a person’s possession, whether the person is a repeat offender and the state in which the person is charged.
Drug trafficking or distribution in Texas is a felony upon which a wide range of penalties may be imposed. It may be anywhere from a state jail felony, which carries the lightest sentence, to a first degree felony, which carries the harshest. The factors influencing which sentence will be imposed are: (1) the amount of the drug being distributed or delivered; and (2) the type of drug and which of the four groups of drugs it is classified under. The smaller the amount of a drug in a certain group, the lighter the sentence may be.
Texas has some very heavy penalties for drug trafficking. Prosecutors may often offer plea deals to defendants where they may offer a charge with a lesser penalty in exchange for information that would help them gather evidence for a higher priority investigation.
The sentences involved may range anywhere from 180 days to two years in state jail and/or a fine of no more than $10,000 for a state jail felony, to life in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or a term of 15 to 99 years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $250,000 for the heaviest first degree felony. The harshness of the sentence imposed depends on how much of the drug is being trafficked. For example, trafficking or distributing less than one gram of a substance in the first grouping of drugs carries a state jail felony charge, whereas trafficking 400 grams or more of any one of the same drugs carries a first degree felony charge that may include a life sentence.
At the Federal level, the Controlled Substances Act (PL 91-513, 1970, last amended in 2000) provides penalties for the unlawful manufacture, distribution, and dispensing (or trafficking) of controlled substances, based on the schedule (rank) of the drug or substance. Generally, the more dangerous the drug and the larger the quantity involved, the stiffer the penalty. Trafficking of heroin, cocaine, LSD, and PCP, all Schedule I or II drugs (see Table 2.1 in Chapter 2), includes mandatory jail time and fines. A person caught selling at least five hundred grams but less than five kilograms of cocaine powder (seventeen ounces to just under eleven pounds) will receive a minimum of five years in prison and may be fined up to $2 million for a first offense. (See Table 6.1.) The same penalty is imposed for the sale of five to forty-nine grams of cocaine base (“crack”). Five grams are equal to the weight of six plain M&Ms candies, and forty-nine grams are a little more than a bag of M&Ms candies (47.9 grams). The high penalty for selling crack is an expression of the unusual severity with which legislators are trying to curb the use of this drug.
Penalties double with the second offense to ten years in prison and up to $4 million in fines. When higher quantities are involved (five or more kilograms of cocaine powder, fifty grams or more of crack, etc.), penalties for the first offense are ten years, and fines up to $4 million may be levied. For the second offense, twenty years and up to $8 million in fines are given, and the third offense results in mandatory life imprisonment. These examples are for an individual. Higher penalties apply if an organized group is involved or if a death or injury is associated with the arrest event.
These penalties apply also to the sale of fentanyl (a powerful painkiller medicine) or like-acting drugs, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and PCP. The smallest amount, which can earn someone a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $2 million, involves trafficking in LSD, where a one-gram amount carries a five-year minimum sentence in prison.
Special penalties exist for marijuana trafficking, since it may be traded in large quantities or grown in substantial amounts. The lower the amounts sold or the fewer the plants grown, the lower the sentence. A person cultivating one to forty-nine plants or selling less than fifty kilograms of marijuana mixture, ten kilograms or less of hashish, or one kilogram or less of hashish oil may get a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Sentences for second offenses involving large amounts of marijuana may earn the trafficker up to life imprisonment.
The penalties for drug trafficking are harsh, and reflect the seriousness of this felony offense and the current political climate. A conviction can lead to jail time, forfeiture of property and fines, but that is only part of the story. It places your current employment in jeopardy, places a severe emotional strain on you and your family, adversely affects your ability to find new work, and places your entire future at risk.
Hire the Best Houston Drug Trafficking Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
A drug trafficking conviction can have an extremely adverse effect on a person’s current and future life in many regards. Both state and federal prosecutors have their eye on a conviction of the most severe charges possible and not on your rights. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will work diligently with prosecutors regarding any circumstances or conditions that could result in charges being dropped or reduced. If necessary, our firm can take your case to court and present a strong defense on your behalf.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm expertly handles all types of Texas drug-related offenses, from the less severe, like simple possession of a small amount of certain drugs, to the more serious ones, such as participating in an organized drug trafficking business with sale, distribution and manufacturing activities. We also defend charges involving controlled substances, such as, marijuana, crack, paraphernalia, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamines (meth), hallucinogens such as LSD, oxycontin, oxycodone, hydrocode, xanax, and Rohypnol club drugs. We represent all levels of people charged with drug offenses, from the student or small time person, to the professional, medical doctor or person accused of being a large scale distributor or trafficker.
If you have been arrested for drug trafficking in Houston, TX, take fast action with a skilled and resourceful Houston Criminal Lawyer. Contact the Charles Johnson Law Firm immediately anytime night or day for a free phone consultation to discuss your case.
Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call us at 713-222-7577 or toll free at 877-308-0100.
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