Under federal Law, the presence or use of firearms can have significant consequences. The possession or use of a firearm in connection with a drug related offense can result in any prison sentence assessed for each of the cases being served consecutively. Absent any aggravating factors such as significant criminal history of significant injury to a victim, this will nevertheless typically result in an additional five years having to be served in addition to any sentence imposed as a result of the drug offense. Also, the presence of a firearm can prevent a Defendant from being eligible for “Safety Valve” provisions. Eligibility for Safety Valve is critical in Federal cases because its application allows the Court generally to depart from the Guidelines in Sentencing and is most commonly an avenue for avoiding the consequences of “mandatory minimums” in sentencing.
Almost without exception, federal drug cases involve either the possession of very large quantities of drugs by a person, or a group of people acting somewhat in concert to manufacture, possess and or distribute large amounts of drugs. Oftentimes, when more than one person is involved, the participants will be charged under one or more of the conspiracy statutes. This allows the government to charge all participants with all of the drugs involved, even the drugs they didn’t personally handle or even know about. This gives the government tremendous power in that it can charge a relatively minor participant with offenses that can result in a mandatory sentence that can run anywhere from 10 years up to life in prison.
Sentencing under the Federal system is done according to what are called Sentencing Guidelines. Unlike sentencing in a State court case, where the Judge has a great deal of discretion as to a sentence imposed, Federal Judges do not have near as much discretion. The result is that most people sentenced under the Federal sentencing procedures face far lengthier sentences than they would under State procedures.