Myths About Interstate Drug Stops Resulting in Federal Drug Conspiracy Charges

At Berry Law, one of the most frequent questions we get from people arrested on the interstate for transporting narcotics or large amounts of cash is: Will the case go federal? Criminal defense lawyers in Nebraska are especially interested in this question because it will determine the location where the case will be resolved. Lawyers working in the eastern half of the state may not be willing to travel five hours to represent someone in the western half, but would take the case, resulting in the case if it was brought to federal court in Lincoln or Omaha. Criminal defense lawyers are not the only ones concerned about whether a case will go federal. Often, the citizen accused has strong concerns about whether the case will go federal. Below are some myths about federal drug cases in Nebraska.

Myth #1 – If an Interstate drug stop goes federal, everyone involved will be facing a sentence of ten years to life in prison.

This is not true. While persons caught traveling with large amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin will likely be charged with possession with intent to distribute or conspiracy to distribute narcotics, the actual amount of prison time they face is based on several factors to include:

  1. The type of drug;
  2. The quantity of the drug;
  3. Whether firearms or other weapons were involved;
  4. The criminal history of the person indicted on the federal drug charge; and
  5. Other factors.

The criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law have represented people stopped on the Interstate facing federal drug conspiracy charges carrying a variety of sentences, including:

  1. 0-20 years
  2. 5-40 years
  3. 10 years – life in prison.

However, the above numbers are based solely on the weight of the drugs found. If guns or other weapons are found in the vehicle, there may be additional charges resulting in additional prison time. There are a myriad of factors that can increase and/or decrease a potential federal drug sentence.

Bottom line: Not every federal drug conspiracy case for drug stops on the Interstate results in a mandatory ten years to life in prison.

Myth #2 – The feds are not interested in marijuana cases.

In cases involving large amounts of marijuana or cash, the feds are likely to get involved. At Berry Law, we have had cases involving over 800 pounds of marijuana that stayed in state courts, but cases involving over a thousand pounds have ended up in federal court. Furthermore, we have represented individuals stopped on the interstate with 50 pounds or less of marijuana but had guns or large amounts of cash in the vehicle, resulting in the case going federal as well. While Interstate drug stops involving marijuana most often remain in Nebraska state court, the quantity of the drugs and other factors may result in federal charges being filed.

Bottom line: Possession with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to distribute marijuana may be charged in federal court.

Myth #3 – If you are going to be indicted, you will know shortly after you have been arrested.

This is false. Criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law have represented individuals who faced state drug charges for months before being federally indicted. In the past, it was common for an individual arrested during an interstate drug stop to immediately know the feds might become involved because there would be a federal hold put on his or her bond. This means the person could not post the bond set by the state court because the federal government told the state court not to release the person due to a likely indictment.

While most criminal defendants usually learn whether they will be indicted within a month of the filing of state charges, this is not always true. It used to seem like the feds would indict right before the preliminary hearing in state court. However, Berry Law attorneys have now seen several cases where the federal indictments did not occur until the state charges had been pending for several months.

Bottom line: Federal indictments may come months, if not years, after state charges are initially filed.

Myth #4 – If you bond out in state court, the federal court will set the same bond.

This is false. While the Nebraska state court must set a reasonable bond in all cases other than rape or murder, federal courts do not operate by the same rules. In the federal district of Nebraska, judges rarely set bond in drug cases. Instead, the federal magistrate determines whether the accused should be allowed supervised release.

Bottom line: Just because you bond out of state court does not mean you will be given the opportunity for pretrial release in federal court.

Myth #5 – If you are not allowed bond or pretrial release, you will be held in a facility near Lincoln or Omaha.

This is false. People arrested on federal drug charges in Nebraska but not released on bond or pretrial release may be sent to a number of facilities in Nebraska, to include Saline country jail, Saunders county jail, Douglas county jail, Cass county jail, Dawson county jail, and even the federal facility at Leavenworth, Kansas.

A United States marshal is under no obligation to house persons charged with crimes in jails close to their assigned federal district courtroom. In complex drug conspiracy cases, individuals charged with crimes are often kept separate, which means they may be housed in separate counties. For example, if Mary and Joe are arrested in an interstate drug stop and are federally indicted, it is possible that Mary and Joe will be separated. Mary may be sent to the Douglas county jail in Omaha, and Joe may be sent to the Saline county jail in Wilbur.

Bottom line: People arrested in drug conspiracy cases are often kept in separate locations, but not always.

While we have discussed five myths about federal interstate drug cases above, there are hundreds more. If you have questions regarding interstate drug cases and federal criminal implications, contact the experienced federal criminal defense lawyers at Berry Law.

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