What To Do If You've Been Charged With a Federal Drug Crime

 Handcuffs, narcotics, and a fingerprint board. 

Handcuffs, narcotics, and a fingerprint board. 

Being charged with a federal crime is one of the scariest things that can happen to a person. It is imperative to understand the nature of a federal drug crime before you can adequately assess the necessary steps to deal with your problem.

Once you understand the federal drug crime prosecution process, you can begin to assess the best way to emerge from this terrible situation with the least possible damage to your life.


What Constitutes a Federal Drug Crime?

Federal drug crime charges  are typically related to high-quantities  of controlled dangerous substances (drugs) such as narcotics that are deemed illegal by the federal government. The most common examples of these drugs are heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and oxycodone. The federal government is also very interested in prosecuting allegations of firearm or gun possession connected to drug trafficking. Some examples of how an individual would be alleged  to commit these sort of offenses are: they are caught by a federal officer or on federal property, they are caught with the assistance of an informant or they are caught actually in the act of manufacturing or selling drugs either while under police surveillance or by actually doing a drug deal with an undercover officer or confidential informant. That being said, here are some examples of the titles of federal drug crime charges: Drug Manufacturing, Drug Selling, Possession (large quantities), Drug Possession with Intent to Distribute, Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime that Involves Drugs, Firearm Possession in Connection with Drug trafficking, and Firearm Possession after being convicted of a disqualifying offense


What is the Timeline You Should Expect When Charged with a Federal Drug Crime

It is usually best to think of this process as a step-by-step timeline. Here is the outlined process of being charged with a federal drug crime below:

Initial Appearance:

The first hearing is before a Federal Magistrate.  A federal magistrate will oversee the first several appearances before the case is transferred to a District Court Judge. The federal magistrate informs the defendant of their constitutional rights and is informed to fill out the financial affidavit if they cannot afford counsel. Upon the appointment of counsel, the federal magistrate indicates to the defendant the maximum time that they could spend in jail for their crime and the potential maximum fine The Federal Magistrate Judge then turns to the issue of release or detention.  If the Federal Government wants the defendant not to be released, then the federal government will move for detention at the initial appearance.   

Detention Hearing:

If the Government opposes realease, the Magistrate Judge will set the case in for a detention hearing within five to seven days after the initial appearance. Bail has largely been eliminated from the Federal criminal justice system.  The Federal magistrate can only detain the defendant, according the Bail Reform Act of 1984, if no condition will reasonable assure the appearance of the defendant and the safety of the community.  Some factors the Court uses in determining this question are the defendant’s criminal record, prior failures to appear in court, the facts alleged in the criminal indictment, the weight of the evidence, and the defendant’s ties to the community including family ties, employment, financial resources, personal character, drug use, and whether the defendant was on parole or probation at the time of the alleged offense.

Pre-trial Motions:

This is an opportunity to suppress evidence due to constitutional violations.

Reverse Proffer Session:  

The reverse proffer session is a meeting between a defendant, their attorney, the assistant United States Attorney, and the law enforcement officers who have investigated the case. In this meeting, the government gives the defendant a detailed look at the scope and quality of the evidence against them.  


Most defendants charged with a federal drug crime are alleged to be part of a much larger criminal enterprise or conspiracy.  The Federal Government’s most powerful tool in the successful prosecution of  cases is that they are able to offer reductions in jail time in exchange for giving information about co-conspirators or doing actual work as a confidential informant while wearing a wire or body camera. Defendants are given an opportunity to cooperate with the government before they are forced to decide between a trial or a plea. The Government may offer a signed cooperation agreement in some cases. Cooperation with the Government is by no means mandatory and is a deep and difficult personal decision.


The majority of federal cases end with a guilty plea. The Federal Government usually only brings charges when the evidence is so substantial against the defendant that winning at trial is unlikely. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines also force pleas due to the huge jail sentences Defendants receive after trial. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are so complex and intricate that much of a federal criminal defense attorney’s work involves helping their client get reductions in their offense level and criminal history category so that the client might receive a lighter sentence. Defendants that do not cooperate may receive “safety valve” relief if they have little or no prior criminal record.  Defendants that chose to cooperate are often given reduced guidelines or may receive some benefit from the prosecutor based on which charges are called during the plea.


If a plea is not reached, then the defendant will go to trial. In a trial, the government faces the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

Appeals and Petitions for Writs of Certiorari:

If the defendant did not waive the right to appeal in a plea agreement, then they can appeal their conviction and their sentence by filing a notice of appeal promptly after the trial. If the defendant does not win the case in the Court of Appeals, they can also seek review with the Supreme Court by filing a Writ of Certiorari.

Supervised Release and Violations:

If a defendant is released, they are usually placed on probation and have to complete regular drug testing. If they fail to comply, they will go back to jail.


How to Approach Your Federal Drug Charges

For many defendants, the federal government usually has a solid case against their activities with drugs by the time they catch them. That being said, innocent people are charged with Federal crimes every day. We are constantly on the look out for an opportunity to go to trial and win cases in Federal Court. If you are not guilty of the offenses charged against you, it is highly recommended that you fight your charges to achieve your own personal justice.

Here at Burke Jaskot, we have experienced attorneys who can represent you. Ryan Burke represents people in federal court on a regular basis.  If you’re currently dealing with a federal drug charge and need an advocate that will fight for your rights, please contact us today!