What Are Common Defense Strategies Against Federal Drug Charges?
In the wake of the opioid epidemic, police and prosecutors are stepping up their drug enforcement efforts. While many drug crimes are prosecuted in state court, serious cases and those involving the transportation of narcotics across state lines can result in federal drug charges.
Generally, federal prosecutors are “the best of the best,” and they only get to that level after working their way up through the state prosecutor’s office. Not only that, but the penalties for federal drug crimes are typically much more severe than for prosecutions that take place in the state criminal justice system. Thus, if you face New Mexico federal drug charges, you need to take your defense seriously. The good news is that there are a variety of defenses to federal drug charges. A dedicated New Mexico criminal defense attorney can work with clients to determine the best strategy for their case.
Types of New Mexico Federal Drug Charges
Unlike state drug charges, federal drug charges depend almost entirely on the type and amount of drug in question. Typically, these charges fit into either possession, sale, or trafficking offenses. For example, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of methamphetamine or any Schedule I or Schedule II narcotic is considered drug trafficking. For other types of drugs, the amount seized will determine whether the government brings drug trafficking charges or proceeds under a lesser offense. Regardless, absent of extraordinary circumstances, there is no point in arguing that a defendant did not have the intent to distribute or sell the drugs.
Defenses Against Federal Drug Charges in New Mexico
When it comes to defenses to federal drug charges, there are a few approaches. Of course, no two cases are identical, and not all defenses will apply to every case. However, below is a list of the most common defenses to federal drug charges:
Suppression of the Evidence
One of the most common defense strategies in a federal drug case is to challenge how law enforcement obtained the evidence they plan to use at trial. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all citizens against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Over time, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. While there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, officers must have probable cause to suspect criminal activity before conducting a warrantless search.
A defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights are enforced through a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence. In a motion to suppress, the defense claims that law enforcement violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that the officer possessed the requisite level of suspicion to justify the intrusion of the defendant’s rights by a preponderance of the evidence. This requires the arresting officer and potentially other officers involved in the investigation to testify. Not only does a motion to suppress present an opportunity to suppress the evidence, but it can also give the defense an opportunity to know what the witnesses will say at trial. Officers’ testimony in a motion to suppress can be used against them at trial to the extent that they tell two different versions of the same story.
Challenging Questionable Testimony
Often, police and prosecutors bring New Mexico federal drug charges after working with a confidential informant, or CI. A CI is, for lack of a better term, a “snitch.” They may have open criminal charges of their own or be receiving some benefit for their cooperation with police and prosecutors.
For obvious reasons, the credibility of a CI is suspect. These cases beg the question, Why is the CI cooperating with police? Thus, in cases involving CIs, a potentially successful defense strategy is to expose the CI’s bias by cross-examining them about what they received in exchange for their cooperation. However, the prosecution is typically under no obligation to turn over the name of a confidential informant. Convincing the court to compel the prosecution to release the name of the CI is often difficult and takes a skilled New Mexico criminal defense attorney.
Challenging a Defendant’s Role in a Larger Organization
Many federal drug crimes end up in federal court due to the quantity of the drugs seized as well as the size of the organization allegedly engaged in trafficking. In these cases, federal prosecutors will argue that anyone who is even slightly linked to the criminal enterprise is guilty.
In some cases, a good defense strategy is to challenge the prosecution’s portrayal of a defendant’s role. Federal drug cases are often very complex, especially those involving multiple defendants. However, this opens the door to arguing that a defendant’s role in the activity was minor or even non-existent. For example, should someone sitting in a basement whose only role is to package drugs face the same criminal liability as the person who transports large amounts of narcotics across state or national borders?
While not all defendants are open to the idea, prosecutors are also frequently looking for minor participants who have knowledge of how the operation works to testify against other members of the organization. Of course, anyone considering working with law enforcement of the prosecution should consult with an attorney to ensure that their rights are adequately protected.
Contact New Mexico Federal Drug Crime Defense Attorneys
If you face federal drug charges, you are undeniably in a very serious situation. However, do not give up hope. When it comes to defending against New Mexico federal drug charges, there are many options. The defenses discussed above are only the most common; there are others. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, our team of federal drug crime defense is up to date on all recent legal developments. We work closely with our clients to craft compelling defenses to even the most serious charges. To learn more about how we can help you defend your freedom from the charges you face, give one of our attorneys a call. You can also reach us through our online form.