Los Angeles Federal Drug Crimes — Quantity Matters

Posted by Debra White | Jun 09, 2009 | 0 Comments

Being arrested by “The Feds” for a federal drug crime is probably one of the scariest moments in a person's life. The image of emotionless men coming to arrest you in dark suits, and dark sunglasses, pops into many people's heads, courtesy of pop culture movies and TV shows.

Well the truth of the matter is that fighting a federal drugs crimes case in Los Angeles, or anywhere in Southern California, is a fierce, uphill battle. Unlike state criminal cases, where there is an enormous amount of discretion on both the Judge's and the attorneys' part to negotiate for the accused, in the federal system, the impact of the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines results in much lengthier, more inflexible sentences. This means that in order to fight, or even to settle, your federal case, you will need a skilled federal criminal law lawyer in Southern California.

Conspiracy and Quantity

An issue that comes up frequently when I first meet with federal drug crime clients is: quantity. All too often, my federal clients are charged with trafficking an enormous quantity of drugs when they may have only been personally involved with a fraction of that quantity. And so the issue rears its ugly head: how can I be charged with a larger quantity than I was actually and personally responsible for? The answer is: conspiracy (18 USC §371) (

Federal prosecutors, known as “AUSAs” are smart. They know that not all alleged drug dealers or traffickers are created equal. They know that when it comes to drug trafficking cases, there are people at the top of the food chain and people at the bottom of the food chain who simply follow orders. And so, to make sure that each and every person involved can be held responsible for the entire quantity of drugs, the AUSAs add a conspiracy charge. Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act.

Under a Supreme Court case called Pinkerton, (Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946)), any person involved in the conspiracy (called a co-conspirator) can be held responsible for the acts of his or her co-conspirator's acts if:

  1. the acts are part of, and in furtherance of the conspiracy; and
  2. these acts are reasonably foreseeable.

In practical terms, this means that a defendant will be held legally responsible for trafficking 1000 kilograms of marijuana, even if he only personally handed 1 kilogram of marijuana, because when it comes to a large group of people all involved with selling drugs, just about anything has been shown to be “reasonably foreseeable.”

For example, a defendant with minor involvement, will most likely be held responsible for the largest possible quantity of drugs under Pinkerton in the following situations, to name a few:

  1. If a defendant has access to, or helps with, pay-owe sheets showing the amount of money that was being made by the people higher up;
  2. If a defendant carries large amounts of money to be dropped off or stored;
  3. If a defendant has overheard conversations where people higher up were discussing large quantities of drugs, or large amounts of sales.

The Larger the Quantity the Longer the Prison Sentence

Quantity really does matter. The larger the quantity alleged, the longer the prison sentence that can be imposed under the Sentencing Guidelines. An experienced federal criminal lawyer understands that challenging the quality and quantity of the drugs can take years off a potential prison sentence. At White Goldstein, we aggressively challenge all accusations against our clients, utilizing our extensive knowledge and experience, along with the services of a federal drug expert where necessary.

If you are charged with a federal crime, call a criminal law lawyer at White Goldstein for a free, initial consultation at (877) 77 WE –WIN or (877) 779-3946 or contact us via email.

About the Author

Debra White

Attorney Debra S. White is an aggressive and talented trial attorney based in Los-Angeles, California who has successfully represented clients accused of sex crimes in both state and federal courts since 1999. Ms. White is a fierce advocate who enjoys the many challenging aspects of sex crimes defense, including defending against false accusations, faulty memories, and prosecutorial misconduct.


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White Goldstein

At White Goldstein, we provide our clients, and their loved ones, with nothing less than excellence in criminal defense. Unlike many criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles, we fight for our clients with compassion and emotion as well as intellect and skill because we genuinely care for our clients and their families