It’s no secret that immigration is a fiercely-debated topic in Texas and throughout the United States. However, many folks are surprised to know that immigration cases are a significant portion of federal prosecutions.
Immigration cases range from prosecuting a visitor who overstays his or her visa, people who enter the U.S. illegally, or those involved in immigrant smuggling. Many of these alleged immigration crimes are committed by non-U.S. citizens.
Immigration prosecutions continue to grow at higher rates than other federal crimes. For instance, the federal courts handled about 30,000 immigration prosecutions in 2011. Since 2008, the number of immigration prosecutions has increased by more than 150 percent.
A drug case may be prosecuted at state level but it may also be tried in federal court. For instance, if federal agents are responsible for an arrest, the matter is propelled into the federal court system. Similarly, local law enforcement agents cooperate with federal agents, allowing the case to enter the federal system.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency are some of the federal agencies investigating drug crimes. Statistics show that many federal drug crimes involve drug trafficking charges. In contrast, drug possession charges are tried at the state level. That’s because the U.S. government wants to stop drugs from entering the country or being distributed throughout the country on a wider scale.
Other scenarios prompt drug cases to be tried in federal court. A case may involve the cross-border transport of drugs from Texas to another state. If the prosecutor alleges a defendant manufactured or distributed large amounts of drugs, the case is likely to be prosecuted in the federal system as well.
Unfortunately, drug-related convictions have created an explosion of the U.S. prison population. Prisons are so overcrowded that lawmakers sought to change the sentencing guidelines for drug or drug-related cases. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2015, almost 6,000 inmates were released pursuant to the new drug-related convictions guidelines.
Those facing weapons charges in federal court face long prison sentences. Weapons and related crimes frequently involve individuals in possession of firearms or weapons who aren’t legally permitted to carry them.
Many firearms or weapons cases are paired with other charges as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 93 percent of offenders convicted of weapons crimes in federal court receive prison sentences. In comparison, individuals facing non-weapons crimes receive prison sentences in about 72 percent of cases.
White Collar Crimes
White collar crime, such as financial or fraud crime, are often considered less serious than violent crimes such as weapons or sexual assault-related offenses.
Financial crimes continue to receive a lot of attention by the federal government. Tax fraud, check fraud, or identity theft may be prosecuted at the federal level.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
The United States Congress has historically used mandatory minimum sentences. The 1790 Crimes Act describes 23 discrete federal crimes, seven of which included a mandatory death sentence. Today, three crimes—piracy, treason, and murder—continue to carry the death penalty.
One hundred eighty-nine federal crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences now. In 2012, legislators agreed that trafficking synthetic drugs is punishable by a mandatory life imprisonment.
Mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes impose binding prison terms for specific time periods. As you might surmise, there are many critics of mandatory minimum sentences. Some argue that mandatory minimums remove the sentencing judge’s discretion when he or she is in the best position to fit the punishment to the individual and his or her particular circumstances.
About 80 percent of mandatory minimum sentences involve those convicted of drug crimes:
1. Drug trafficking carries a mandatory minimum prison term.
- Federal drug trafficking occurs when the offender manufactures, possess with the intention to dispense, manufacture, or distribute any amount of a prohibited drug or controlled substance; or when he or she dispenses, manufactures or distributes these substances.
- Some federal crimes impose mandatory minimum sentences or five, 10, or life in prison sentences (without the benefit of parole). For instance, if the crime involves at least one kilo of cocaine, at least 10 grams of LSD, more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana, or at least 50 grams of methamphetamine, the convicted offender must receive a 10-year to life in prison sentence.
- If serious bodily injury or death occurred in the commission of the drug crime, the offender faces at least 20 years to life in prison.
2. Drug import/export carries a five-year to life in prison sentence.
- The Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (2009) details Schedules I/II banned substances as well as non-narcotic Schedule III-V substances.
- Often referred to as drug-smuggling, the offender engaged in importing/exporting controlled substances faces at least five years to life behind bars plus a minimum $2 million to maximum $20 million fine.
Federal violent crimes or drug crimes that involve firearms also mandate stiff minimum sentences:
- Five – 10 years is added to an underlying offense if and when this is the defendant’s first offense.
- Fifteen years is added to the underlying offense when a drug addict or fugitive uses a weapon to commit an offense.
- Fifteen years is added to the underlying offense if the convict armor-piercing ammunition in a violent crime or drug trafficking offense.
- Twenty-five years is added to the underlying offense if and when this is a second violation.
- Thirty years is added to the underlying offense when a destructive device, firearm with silencer, or machine gun was used. (The offender may face a life sentence if this is his or her second offender.)
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It’s illegal to harbor or bring in an illegal alien if the individual has reason to believe that he or she will commit a felony or that he or she will be used for private/commercial financial gain:
- The offender faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three to five years.
- If the offender was previously deported for reasons involving national security, he or she faces a mandatory 10-year minimum prison sentence.
White collar crimes
Aggravated identity theft involves a two to five-year mandatory minimum sentence (to be added to a predicate offense).
Child pornography and sex offenses involve mandatory minimum sentences of five-year, 10-year, 30-year, or life in prison for the charged offense.
U.S. sentencing guidelines consider three factors, including 1) if the offense resulted in harming another party, 2) if the crime involved a weapon, 3) victim’s age, 4) use of fraud, coercion or force, and 5) the offender’s criminal history.
Facing Federal Charges? Contact an Experienced Federal Defense Lawyer in Houston TX
Even those federal crimes that don’t fall under federal mandatory minimum sentence schemes are punishable with severe sentences, harsh fines, and ultra-strict terms and conditions (T&Cs) of supervised released after prison. He or she may also face an open-ended commitment to a treatment facility if he or she is deemed a risk to society because of his or her history of violence or mental illness.
If you or someone you love is the subject of an investigation or facing federal criminal charges, you need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney now. He can help you to understand the charges and do everything possible to develop an aggressive defense.
Call the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston to schedule an initial case evaluation at 713-228-0087.