drug trafficking

Mandatory Minimum Federal Prison Sentences for Drug Trafficking Offenses

By Peek & Toland on October 16, 2019

Federal law has historically provided for harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug trafficking offenses. Judges had no discretion to deviate from these mandatory minimum sentences. The First Step Act of 2018, however, which President Trump signed into law in December 2018, modifies some of these mandatory minimum sentences and other penalties for drug trafficking and related drug offenses.

Individuals with one prior qualifying conviction previously were subject to a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. The First Step Act decreases the mandatory minimum sentence to 15 years. Likewise, for individuals with two prior qualifying convictions, the mandatory minimum prison sentence decreases from a life sentence to 25 years in federal prison.

Mandatory Minimum Federal Prison Sentences for Drug Trafficking Offenses

The First Step Act also modifies mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug traffickers with prior convictions. The Act increases the threshold for prior convictions that trigger higher mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders. Now, for mandatory minimum sentences to apply, the prior convictions must qualify under the Act’s new definitions for “serious drug felony” or “serious violent felony.” Previously, mandatory minimum sentences applied if individuals had a prior conviction for any felony drug offense. This change can lead to lower mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug traffickers.

Another feature of the First Step Act is that it eliminates the “stacking” provision. This provision allowed federal prosecutors to charge individuals with a second and subsequent use of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking or a violent crime in the same criminal incident. The stacking provision led to a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Now, prosecutors only can impose this mandatory minimum sentence if they have a prior conviction for the use of a firearm in a drug trafficking or a violent crime from a previous criminal incident.

If you or a family member is facing accusations of drug trafficking or any other criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.

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Defining Drug Trafficking

By Peek & Toland on January 5, 2019

Texas Health and Safety Code § 481.112 defines drug trafficking as knowingly manufacturing, delivering, or possessing with intent to deliver a controlled substance. The level of the offense charged and the penalties for a conviction depend upon the classification of the controlled substance and the weight of the controlled substance at the time that the offense was committed. Certain enhancements to drug trafficking crimes also can make the penalties for a conviction more severe, such as a history of previous criminal convictions, whether serious bodily injury occurred due to the offense, whether weapons were involved, and whether any minors were involved.

The Texas Controlled Substances Act classifies controlled substances according to penalty group based on each drug’s risk of abuse and any accepted medical use. Penalty Group 1 drugs are considered to be the most dangerous drugs with the highest risk of misuse and no accepted medical usage. As a result, possession or trafficking in these drugs carry far greater penalties than those that are classified in Penalty Groups 3 and 4.


Defining Drug Trafficking

For example, trafficking in a Penalty Group 1 controlled substance, such as cocaine, meth, and heroin, is a state jail felony if the amount of the controlled substances found is one gram or less. The charges and penalties increase as the weight of the drug, including any dilutants or adulterants, increases. Trafficking in more than 400 grams of a Penalty Group 1 controlled substance is a felony offense that can result in life in prison or a sentence ranging from 15 to 99 years, as well as a fine of up to $250,000.

In contrast, Texas Health and Safety Code § 481.114 provides that individuals who commit drug trafficking of a controlled substance in Penalty Groups 3 or 4 face state jail felony charges if they are found with less than 28 grams of the drug. Accordingly, as the weight of the drug increases, so do the charges and the potential penalties.

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense against any criminal charges, as well as educate you about your rights and responsibilities before the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case, present your options, and help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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Members of White Supremacist Gang in Texas Are Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison

By Peek & Toland on May 25, 2018

One of the largest prosecutions of a white supremacist gang has taken place in Texas where prosecutors sentenced 89 people.

In a press release, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Dallas said it wrapped up what is believed to be the largest prosecution in U.S. history of people linked to a white supremacist gang in 2017.

The investigation was led by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s gang unit and the Dallas Police Department’s criminal intelligence unit.

Other investigating agencies included ICE, the police department in Garland, the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and Texas police departments in Mesquite, Denison, Sherman and Sulphur Springs.

The press release from John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said the 89th and last defendant to be sentenced was Jeramy Weatherall, 29, of Dallas, Texas.

white supremacist gang members jailed

Members of white supremacist gang were sentenced

He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle in August to 20 years in federal prison. In March 2017, he admitted one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Federal authorities said 89 people were convicted of the gang-related crimes. One remains a fugitive and is thought to be in Mexico. Another died before the trial started.

The 89 people who were convicted received a total of more than 1,070 years in a federal prison. Casey Rose, a 36-year-old from Mesquite in Texas was sentenced to life in federal prison after he was convicted in September 2015 of conspiracy, drug trafficking, and firearms charges.

U.S. Attorney Parker said the operation effectively wiped out the white supremacist gang. He said:

 “The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Aryan Circle have essentially been decimated in North Texas. The outstanding collaborative work of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Dallas Police Department helped ensure that each of the 89 defendants who were arrested have now been convicted and sentenced.”

Interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes hailed the operation as a “great example of the success of local and federal law enforcement working together” along with the United States Attorney to ensure career criminals were brought to justice.

The defendants were members of a variety of right-wing gangs including the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), the “Irish Mob,” the Aryan Circle, the “Dirty White Boys,” the “White Knights,” and the “Peckerwood.”

The investigators said all of these are violent white supremacist gangs.  The press release said each of the gangs is an organized crime group. In recent years, the white supremacy ideology of each of the groups has become less important than traditional criminal ventures, such as drug dealing.

If you face gang or drugs charges, you are likely to be facing a long prison sentence. Please call our Austin criminal defense lawyers for representation at (512) 474-4445.

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Feds Accuse Four Men of Drug Trafficking in Houston

By Peek & Toland on August 28, 2017

Drug trafficking is a crime that often crosses state and national borders. It’s usually investigated at a federal level. Recently, four men were arrested for allegedly drug trafficking in Houston.

A report in The Examiner stated acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston made an announcement on March 7 that four people were arrested. They were charged with drug trafficking in the Eastern District of Texas, after a lengthy investigation.

An indictment was returned by a federal grand jury. It was unsealed on March 1. The four men who appeared before a U.S. magistrate charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to money launder were Harry Martinez, 41, Alexander Ramirez Valencia, 43, and Jeihka Angelica Cuero, 24, all from Colombia. The fourth man is Carlos Ivan Calderon Rosado, 52, of Puerto Rico.

Four are accused of drug trafficking in Houston

The indictment accuses the men of distributing heroin through Southeastern Texas to the New Orleans area for three years from about 2014 until February 2017. Law enforcement teams seized 10 kilograms of heroin and $386,000 cash in raids.

The four men were living in Houston in Texas. Ramirez and Martinez and were reported to be awaiting final deportation hearings at the time they were picked up. The defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of drug trafficking in Houston and elsewhere.

On our website we note the stiff penalties people accused of drug trafficking face at a federal level. Often people who have no prior criminal convictions face as long as 10 years in prison if they are convicted of drug trafficking.

The arrests come at a time when heroin deaths are spiking in the United States and the authorities are determined to make an example of drug traffickers.

Acting U.S. Attorney Featherston said in a press release:

 “Heroin use in the United States has reached a 20 year high according to the 2016 World Drug Report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2016 saw the number of overdose drug deaths exceeded 50,000. This number is more than violent gun deaths, and more than car crash related fatalities reported in 2016.”

This case against the four men is being prosecuted under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) as part of a joint investigation. The task force has pledged to disrupt, identify and break up serious drug trafficking organizations and to bring the drug traffickers to justice.  Other bodies joined forces with the feds in the investigation including the Texas Department of Public Safety, Houston Police Department, and the Beaumont Police Department.

The influx of cheap heroin from Mexico has been linked to a rise in crime in the United States.

One of the theories for this is the fragmentation of the Sinaloa Cartel. The gang was the largest player in the heroin market but the arrest of its kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in 2014 left a vacuum that was filled by warring gangs in cities like Chicago.

If you have been arrested for drug trafficking, you can expect a harsh sentence if convicted. You should hire experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Drug Trafficker Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison in Lubbock

By Peek & Toland on June 6, 2017

People accused of trafficking drugs in Texas are usually dealt with in the federal courts and receive long prison sentences. Earlier this year, a drug trafficker was sentenced to 360 months in Lubbock.

Senior U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings sentenced Rudolfo Ledesma Castaneda, Jr. to 360 months in federal prison. Castaneda pleaded guilty last October to a single count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.

The U.S. Department of Justice convicted 12 people from San Angelo in Texas following a major drug investigation. Federal investigators said they were part of a drug trafficking organization.

Drug trafficker was sentenced in Lubbock

Castaneda and 11 other defendants, most of them from the San Angelo area, were arrested in July 2016. Their arrests were as part of a joint Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Typically, federal and local agencies join forces in big drug enforcement operations. In this case, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) carried out the operation with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the San Angelo Police Department.

Drug Trafficker and Others Arrested After Joint Operation

The investigators were assisted by the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office.

Another drug trafficker, Richard Jasso, 39, of San Angelo, Texas, was sentenced to life in federal prison after a federal jury convicted him on one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams of more of methamphetamine as well as aiding and abetting.  John Parker, U.S. attorney of the Northern District of Texas said:

“Targeting drug traffickers who have taken root in the San Angelo area and jeopardize the safety and security of our communities is a top priority for my office. But one agency can’t do it alone.”

He said when agencies join forces, nothing stands in their way. He described drugs as a poison in the community.

Castaneda was described as the ringleader of the drug organization.  Of 12 defendants who were indicted, 11 were convicted.  The charges were later dismissed against one of the defendants.

If you have been charged with drug trafficking, you can expect a long stretch in a federal prison on conviction. Find out more about drug crimes here on our website.

Call us today for experienced criminal representation in Austin, Round Rock, Bastrop, San Antonio or elsewhere in Texas at (512) 474-4445.

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Austin Police Seize $2.1 Million in Liquid Meth

By Peek & Toland on May 30, 2017

Drug crimes frequently make headlines in Austin and elsewhere in Texas. In January, police said they discovered 65 pounds of liquid meth in the gas tanks of a woman’s car.

She was reported to be traveling from Mexico to the Dallas area.

The TV station KVUE reported Maria Bermudez Gutierrez, 45, a Mexican national, was pulled over by police officers for a traffic stop on Interstate 35.

Austin police said they discovered 65 pounds of liquid methamphetamine in the gas tank of her car. Officers said she failed to remain driving in her lane.

Police questioned Gutierrez and found inconsistencies in her reasons for traveling to the United States.

Austin was the scene of a liquid meth bust

Liquid meth is highly addictive

They asked Gutierrez if they could search her car and she complied, according to media reports.

Investigators said they discovered anomalies in the woman’s gas tank. They brought in a K9 team to search the vehicle for narcotics. After the K9 alerted police to the potential presence of drugs inside the tank, police called out a mechanic to inspect it.

Drugs officers said they discovered liquid crystal meth, with a street value of $2.6 million. It was concealed behind a partition in the gas tank of the car, stated police.

They said the quantities of liquid meth found could have impacted the Dallas community. Sgt. Greg White, Supervisor for the Organized Crime Division at Austin’s Police Department said:

“It’s a very dangerous drug. Not only for the health hazards, but [it’s] very addictive and leads to further crimes — you know people committing robberies and burglaries to support the drug habit.”

Gutierrez was booked in at the Travis County jail. She was later transferred to federal custody. The Drug Enforcement Agency is investigating the incident.

Liquid Meth – When Drugs Offenses Are Prosecuted as Federal Crimes

Many drugs offenses are dealt with at a federal level.  These include drug trafficking offenses which we describe here.

Drug trafficking carries very severe penalties. Typically drug traffickers are sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. The only drug offenses that are not deal with at a federal level are usually possession crimes.

Depending on the amount of an illicit drug in the defendant’s possession, the penalty for possession can range from a third-degree felony up to a first-degree felony. Read more about our experienced drugs defense here.

If you have been charged with a drugs offense call our Austin criminal defense lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

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Drug Trafficking – Former Sheriff Warns Drug Cartels are Thriving in Austin

By Peek & Toland on February 10, 2017

The link between the drug trade and crimes of violence has been an issue of debate for decades. Recently, a leading law enforcement officer in Austin has associated drug trafficking with a string of recent killings.

Reporters with the news channel KXAN spoke to Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton who said a series of murders were linked to the drug trade. Hamilton did not run for re-election and was replaced by Sally Hernandez at the end of 2016. The interview took place before the election.

He claimed a lack of law enforcement resources created a vacuum that allowed drug cartels into Austin and surrounding areas.

The former sheriff alluded to recent killings in the Del Valle area where a series of victims were shot dead. He claimed these crimes are drug-related.

Concern over drug trafficking in Austin

Drug trafficking in and around Austin is highlighted by police

In September, four people were found dead in a burning house in Del Valle. Police said they appear to have been killed before the fire started.

Hamilton said the killings and the perception they are linked to drug trafficking justifies greater resources. He asked Travis County commissioners for more funding.

Hamilton said:

“We’re still treating this city and county like it’s a small town. It’s not anymore and we need to have the law enforcement staffing out here, not only in the field, but administrative to do the paperwork.”

Law Enforcement Warns of Potential Escalation of Drug Trafficking

He warned the situation may blow up unless more resources are targeted at the problem.

Hamilton also blamed the lack of a narcotics unit in nearby Bastrop County.

That county’s interim Sheriff Rosanna Abreo said she recognized the problem and the need to work together on solving crimes. In the past resources were diverted away from drug crimes to property crimes and assaults, she said.

At Peek & Toland , we represent people who have been charged with drug crimes. Drug trafficking is one of the most serious narcotics crimes. You can read more about drug trafficking here.

There are a six different classifications of drugs when it comes to sentencing in Texas. The penalties for trafficking can vary depending on what drug is involved. We will work diligently to defend your rights, whether you are accused of trafficking marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

Call us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445. We offer a Spanish-speaking service to our clients.

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Man is Charged with Drug Trafficking After $90,000 Cocaine Bust in Austin

By Peek & Toland on December 16, 2016

Drug trafficking is a serious offense that often leads to a federal prosecution. The trade in drugs like heroin and cocaine is enforced diligently by the authorities.

In September, Austin made headlines when officers allegedly seized cocaine worth $90,000, reported the Statesman.

The report stated investigators with the Criminal Interdiction Unit seized the cocaine during a traffic stop on Sept. 25.

The police identified the 37-year-old driver as Pedro Garcia. He gave them permission to search his Ford pickup.  A police sniffer dog confirmed the possible existence of narcotics in the vehicle.

drug trafficking arrest in Austin

Police made a cocaine bust in Austin

Police officers said they noticed “anomalies” on the front end differential of the pickup. The Ford was taken to a mechanic shop for further inspection. Police said they found four packages wrapped in tape inside the pickup. They alleged the packages contained three kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of around $90.000.

Garcia was subsequently booked into Travis County Jail. He was charged with drug trafficking charges and was due to be transferred into federal custody, according to investigators.

Drug trafficking is a serious offense. Our Austin drug offense criminal defense lawyers have a long track record in helping people charged with this crime.

While drug possession may be dealt with by the state, drug trafficking charges pit the weight of the federal system against you. We often see young people who are just setting out in life and have no criminal record, facing a minimum of ten years in federal prison for drug trafficking.

Drug Trafficking and Federal Versus State Crimes

There has long been a longstanding federal strategy to fight drug abuse and the distribution of many controlled substances. In the 1980s, a high profile zero tolerance approach was pursued in relation to drugs.

At the same time, every state has its own drug laws. Typically, federal charges are for trafficking and distribution, while most state drug offenses are for possession.

Although federal punishments are usually harsher, there are a number of other factors that can influence your sentence, namely:

  • The type of drug involved and the quantity.
  • Where you were apprehended by police. If you smuggled drugs into the country or were handing them out near a school, the penalties are tougher
  • Your criminal history.

If you have been charged with drug trafficking, it’s important to contact and hire an experienced Austin drug defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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