Understanding the Mandatory Minimums for Drug Trafficking in New Mexico

Posted on by New Mexico Criminal Law Offices

drug traffickingYou might have heard of mandatory minimums before, but unless you are arrested and facing a criminal conviction, you may not have done the work to find out what they are.

Mandatory minimums are nothing to scoff at, and they are severe sentences that the law requires for specific crimes. The purpose of mandatory minimums is to deter others from committing similar crimes, but also to create cohesion for sentencing when it comes to more serious criminal offenses.

What are Mandatory Minimum Sentences and When Does Albuquerque Use Them?

Mandatory minimum sentences are minimum prison sentences set for specific criminal acts. Judges cannot lower these sentences regardless of the circumstances present, and typically these are set for drug crimes like drug trafficking.

How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Works

In general sentencing, judges will decide a punishment after you have been found guilty at trial or plead guilty in a bargain. The judge will reference the statute and sentencing guidelines for the state and then pick the appropriate sentence. Sentences typically have a range, and they are intended to fit the crime. Therefore, the range of penalties allows the judge to use their discretion and consider mitigating or aggravating factors that increase or decrease the penalty such as:

  • If the defendant was an accessory or primary offender;
  • If the defendant hurt someone on purpose or unintentionally;
  • If the defendant’s mental state was questioned at the time;
  • If the defendant has prior similar crimes on their record.

The final sentence given by the judge is typically within that suggested range set by the state’s sentencing guidelines but might be shorter or longer based on the judge’s discretion.

How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Works

With mandatory minimum sentences, judges cannot use their discretion. Instead, a crime subject to a mandatory minimum sentence means the judge must give the minimum sentence imposed by the statute – regardless if they agree with it.

That means even if you were to plead guilty or found guilty at trial, the same minimum sentence is applied. The judge cannot give you a shorter sentence despite mitigating circumstances. Even if there are reasons a judge would generally reduce the sentence, the mandatory minimum prohibits them from exercising their ability to shorten your sentence.

Judges can, however, consider aggravating factors, which allows them to impose a sentence higher than the minimum. Therefore, even though they cannot go below the minimum, judges can sentence you longer than the mandatory minimum sentence.

Federal drug laws are one of the more common areas where you see mandatory minimum sentences. States that use the “three strikes” laws also use mandatory minimum sentencing. Meaning that if you are on your third felony conviction, regardless of what that conviction is for, you will face a minimum prison sentence – which could be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

New Changes to Come to Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

The Obama-era policy that allowed drug offenders to escape the harsh mandatory minimum sentences might be coming to an end. The new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, already stated that he intends to roll back the policy and impose harsher mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders.

Currently, Sessions is withdrawing the 2013 directive made by Attorney General Eric Holder, which told prosecutors to not specify the number of drugs in a case when dealing with low-level and non-violent drug offenders – which allowed them to escape mandatory minimums.

Sessions plans to undo this and wants prosecutors to charge and pursue serious drug offenses without being told by the federal government to leave out pertinent details. Furthermore, Sessions does not want judges to use their discretion, because he feels that harsher mandatory minimums will prevent repeat offenders and serve as a reminder to the public of what happens if you were to engage in drug crimes.

What are the Mandatory Minimum Sentences for New Mexico?

New Mexico has mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, which are harsher when you are a second-time or subsequent offender.

Schedule I and Schedule II substances in the New Mexico Controlled Substances Act, including cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine, and PCP will include mandatory minimums if you are arrested with a substantial amount or allegedly committing drug trafficking with these items.

Most Drug Trafficking Subject to Federal Mandatory Minimums

When you are arrested for drug trafficking, you are more likely to face federal charges that state. That is because you may allegedly carry those substances across state lines; therefore, the case would be handled by federal prosecutors.

Drug trafficking is a serious offense in the United States. Even a small amount of drugs being carried across state lines could result in a mandatory minimum sentence.

The following are mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking:

  • 1st Offense – If it is your first offense, you will still face anywhere from five years to life as a mandatory minimum. For example, if it is your first offense and you are found guilty of manufacturing or trafficking a Schedule I or Schedule II drug, you will have a mandatory minimum of 20 years when someone is injured as a result. If it is your first offense and you have manufactured, distributed or trafficked that drug without injury to another person, then you may face a mandatory five years imprisonment.
  • 2nd Offense – Secondary offenses are when minimum compulsory sentences become even harsher. For example, a second offense of distributing or manufacturing illegal substances like heroin and cocaine goes from five years for a first-time offender to 20 years mandatory minimum. If it is your second offense and someone suffers serious injury or death, and you were trafficking over 1 gram of LSD or 28 grams of crack cocaine you will receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.

These are the federal sentencing guidelines that are required by judges when sentencing offenders. Also, the minimum fine is separate from the punishment; therefore, offenders will also face mandatory minimum fines, which might include restitution if they cause bodily injury or death.

Protecting Yourself from Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum sentencing can be harsh, especially for a first-time offender. If you are arrested for allegedly committing drug trafficking, you cannot risk the rest of your life trying to defend it yourself. Instead, you need an attorney that has experience with drug trafficking and drug-related crimes.

Contact an attorney from New Mexico Criminal law Offices today. We will fight aggressively for your freedom and do our best to help you avoid the penalty of a mandatory minimum sentence.

Schedule a free case evaluation today by calling our office or contacting us online.