The complex nature of marijuana laws at the city, state, and federal levels is enough to overwhelm anyone. The bottom line when it comes to marijuana is that it remains illegal under federal law. Listed by the federal government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, marijuana remains in the company of such drugs as heroin and cocaine. Federal courts do not recognize state medical or recreational marijuana laws as a defense for federal charges. If a federal agency arrests you and charges you with selling, buying, or possessing marijuana, you need a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer familiar with federal drug laws.
To search your car for marijuana, an officer must have probable cause to do so. What constitutes probable cause is often a tricky subject when it comes to marijuana and car searches. Probable cause generally requires that an officer suspects criminal activity.
One of the key items law enforcement officers employ to detect drugs is specially trained dogs. If the dog alerts an officer while inspecting a car, the officer will claim to have probable cause to search the vehicle without needing to obtain a warrant. However, police dogs are coming under growing scrutiny for their inability to sometimes distinguish between marijuana and other illicit drugs, which adds to the complexity of marijuana odors and probable cause.
If law enforcement officers smell marijuana, they may claim that they have probable cause to search your vehicle. However, recent court decisions at the state levels reject the notion that an officer has the right to search your person based only on the smell. Prosecutors involved in one medical marijuana case claimed that, no matter what, it is illegal to possess or use the drug in your vehicle. Therefore, they argue that smell alone does qualify as probable cause. The topic of probable cause is so tricky that even states like Colorado—with seven years of legalized marijuana—admit that they still struggle with its definition.
The issue of probable cause is a legal one due to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from illegal search and seizure. Probable cause to perform a search is a requirement of the amendment. The tug-of-war between the federally protected rights of citizens and the duties of law enforcement is a daily challenge.
The Use of Warrants
To search a home or business, law enforcement must have a warrant issued by a judge.
There are certain circumstances where a warrant isn’t necessary, including:
- If a person gives consent for law enforcement to search their home or business
- If a lawful arrest is taking place at the home or business
- If important evidence is about to be destroyed
- If a subject is fleeing the premises
A warrant must contain the following information:
- A description of the home or property to be searched
- A description of the items police expect to seize
- A signature of a neutral judge or magistrate
Probable cause is often challenged in court by defense attorneys. How law enforcement obtained any evidence that led to your arrest is important. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney is essential to ensure that your rights aren’t violated. It is also the first step toward mounting the best defense possible.
When it comes to a federal court case, a criminal defense attorney needs sufficient time to review the evidence and to prepare a defense strategy. The sooner you secure the services of an attorney, the better you will feel knowing that your case is in good hands.
The Fair Sentencing Act
The national drug crisis is drawing more attention to sentencing guidelines. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act. While the Act primarily applies to individuals arrested for cocaine charges, it also directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to:
- Review and amend sentencing guidelines to increase sentencing times for defendants convicted of using violence during a drug offense.
- Incorporate aggravating and mitigating factors in its guidelines for drug trafficking offenses.
- To officially announce guidelines, policy statements, or amendments required by the Act; this announcement must be made as soon as practicable and no later than 90 days after the enactment of the Act.
- To study and report to Congress on the impact of changes in sentencing law under the Act.
The Act also eliminates the five-year mandatory minimum prison term for first-time possession of crack cocaine. This Act can greatly affect your life when it comes to your sentencing for a federal drug crime. While the Act reduces some charges, it’s important to remember that it increases sentencing for drug trafficking involving violence.
Drug Trafficking and Marijuana
The legalization of recreational marijuana in some states and not in others makes transporting the drug risky. For example, recreational marijuana is currently illegal in Pennsylvania. Taking a vacation in Colorado, where it is legal, and bringing some home is a form of drug trafficking. Transporting the drug across state lines—no matter what your intent—and importing it into a non-legal state can land you in federal prison.
To put drug trafficking of marijuana in better perspective, consider the following statistics for 2018:
- 91 percent of individuals convicted of trafficking marijuana were sentenced to prison.
- The average sentence for marijuana drug traffickers was 29 months.
- 61 percent had little or no prior criminal history.
The Fair Sentencing Act allows considerations for mitigating circumstances, which means that every detail of your drug trafficking case plays a vital role in how much, or how little, time you may serve in federal prison. Due to the increase in the number of states legalizing recreational use, federal agencies remain somewhat hesitant about pursuing marijuana cases in those states. The exception is when individuals do not follow state laws and engage in interstate commerce.
It is possible to apply for a reduced sentence under the Fair Sentencing Act if your case meets the following requirements:
- Your conviction was for a cocaine-based crime, and
- You were sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
To apply for a sentence reduction, you must apply via section 404 of the First Steps Act of 2018. While the request for sentence reduction applies to one act, another act is the channel for making the request.
The complexity of seeking a sentence reduction is less stressful when you retain the services of a criminal defense attorney. The opportunity to possibly reduce your sentence is too good to not at least try. If you meet the requirements listed above, consider discussing your case with an experienced attorney without delay.
The First Step Act
Spending time in a federal prison isolates you from family and can make re-entry into society difficult. The First Step Act attempts to ease the stress that families face and to establish a better transition for release. A few examples of how the First Step Act works include:
- Major incentives for participating in programs – One of the key benefits of participating in programs is the opportunity to earn prerelease credit. Inmates can earn 10 days in prerelease custody for every 30 days of successful participation. There is no cap on the number of credits one can earn. Other incentives include increased phone privileges and visitation periods.
- Availability of prelease custody – This section of the act requires the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to transfer low and minimum-risk prisoners to prelease custody. This means the BOP should relocate them to a halfway house or home confinement.
- Creation and expansion of classes and vocational skills training – By providing inmates with proper training, they are better equipped to obtain employment upon release. The act also allows for partnerships with nonprofits, faith groups, and others to ensure that the classes are accessible to as many people as possible.
- Prioritizing people who need the most help – The First Step Act prioritizes treatment, counseling, and classes for incarcerated men and women identified as high or medium risk. These inmates are classified as such due to the potential for committing future crimes.
- Moving prisoners closer to their family – Contact with loved ones can help inmates to better reintegrate into society upon release. The First Step Act requires that inmates serve their time in prisons no less than 500 miles from their homes. This reduces the financial travel burden for many families and makes contact more feasible.
- Dignity for women – Federal prisons are no longer allowed to chain pregnant women to bed during birth. The Act protects pregnant women up to three months past the baby’s birth.
The First Step Act is exactly that—an important first step toward true prison reform. The act acknowledges the different needs of low and medium-risk prisoners compared with high-risk prisoners. If you face federal prison time due to a recent marijuana charge, knowing that the First Step Act is now law can ease your mind. Depending upon the type of charges you face, your classification as a low or high-risk prisoner can provide you with options for improving your situation and your life.
Why You Need a Marijuana Defense Lawyer
Understanding marijuana laws as they apply to state and federal courts is best left to a criminal defense attorney. An arrest for a federal crime is a very serious matter that requires the help of a highly skilled and experienced attorney.
Being charged with a federal crime can greatly affect your employment, your relationships, and your finances, now and in the future. The anxiety of an uncertain future will likely only increase your stress as you worry about possibly serving time and/or paying hefty fines.
A criminal defense attorney familiar with marijuana laws and federal regulations can provide the guidance you need. While you may think you understand how the law applies to marijuana, don’t risk representing yourself. The truth is that many people assume state laws protect them—even in cases of medical marijuana—from federal prosecution, but that’s not true. The decriminalization of marijuana in Philadelphia may also contribute to dangerous complacency regarding the drug and related charges. Ignoring the seriousness of federal charges can place your future at great risk. Be proactive and take charge of your defense by contacting a criminal defense attorney today.
Call Our Philadelphia Marijuana Lawyer Today
Federal prosecutors are tough, and they want convictions. Securing an aggressive yet experienced criminal defense attorney is your bet for protecting the outcome of your case. Most criminal defense attorneys in the Philadelphia area offer free case evaluations, which will provide you with the opportunity to discuss your case and decide upon your best options moving forward.
A federal charge for marijuana doesn’t have to ruin your life. The circumstances of your case may include such factors as an illegal search of your car, your home, or other violations of your rights. The laws are so complex that the smallest detail can affect whether you are found guilty or not guilty.
A federal marijuana charge and the possible sentence you face depend upon several factors. The type of charge, such as possession or trafficking, the amount of the drug found, and your intent all factor into your case. If you find yourself the subject of a search, remain calm and contact an attorney as soon as possible. Be respectful to law enforcement but ask to speak with your attorney. Remember that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
An arrest of any type is a scary experience. A federal charge is even worse due to the thought of a federal prison sentence. Criminal defense attorneys study law to help citizens like you. It’s their job, and they take great pride in presenting the best defense possible.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. While the confusion over state and federal laws remains, the bottom line is that marijuana possession, selling, buying, and transporting is illegal at the federal level. To avoid possible federal prison time, make sure you have the right criminal defense attorney for your case. Your future depends on it.
If you’re facing federal marijuana charges, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 to schedule your initial consultation.