President Obama recently announced the sentence commutation of more than 100 federal prisoners serving decades-long penalties under arcane cocaine trafficking statutes. Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 600 people this year, and over the course of his term, more than the last 11 presidents combined.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals arrested for cocaine trafficking in Miami will not be able to count on a presidential commutation or pardon. These charges potentially carry decades-long sentences, so it’s imperative that your Miami criminal defense attorney have the experience, skill and resources to properly defend your case.
F.S. 893.123 is the state statute on drug trafficking and outlines the minimum mandatory penalties for the various charges. Contrary to popular belief, cocaine trafficking is not primarily the work of criminal masterminds or even career criminals. In fact, one need not even sell the drug to be arrested for trafficking.
The law defines “trafficking” as knowingly purchasing, selling, making, bringing into the state of the drug It could even mean knowingly being in actual or constructive possession of the drug.
With regard to cocaine, the statute clarifies it doesn’t matter the form of the drug, whether powder or rock. Part of the reason Obama has been so actively commuting sentences of cocaine traffickers has to do with the history of disparate sentences based on whether it was powder (more likely used/sold by whites) and crack/rock (more likely used/ sold by minorities). Even though these substances are nearly identical on a molecular level, the latter has always been more likely to result in harsher penalties for users and dealers.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 sought to remedy that. However, research has shown individuals charged with just 1 gram of crack are given the same penalty as those charged with possessing 18 grams of cocaine. Still, this disparity was better than the 100:1 chasm that existed prior to the 2010 federal law.
Much of the sentencing outcome depends not just on the circumstances of the case, but the specific weight of drug in question.
Minimum mandatory penalties for drug charges are a carry-over that continues long after the launch of the failed, “War on Drugs.” These laws deprive judges of the discretion to offer a lower sentence, despite mitigating circumstances.
When it comes to cocaine trafficking, the minimum mandatory penalties are as follows:
- 28 grams to 199 grams – 3-year minimum mandatory prison sentence.
- 200 grams to 399 grams – 7-year minimum mandatory prison sentence.
- 400 grams to 149 kilograms – 15-year minimum mandatory prison sentence.
- 150 kilograms ore more – minimum mandatory life sentence.
Keep in mind – none of these sentences take into account whether there was any violence or even the use of a firearm. If a firearm is used, it’s not considered a separate offense, but rather an enhancer to the underlying crime. Per F.S. 775.087(1)(a), a defendant who carries, displays, uses, threatens to use or attempts to use a firearm in the commission of a felony will result boosting the severity of the crime. So for example:
- A first-degree felony (up to 30 years in prison) is increased to a life felony;
- A second-degree felony (up to 15 years in prison) is increased to a first-degree felony (up to 30 years in prison);
- A third-degree felony (up to five years in prison) is increased to a second-degree felony (up to 15 years in prison).
Further, trafficking in cocaine may be considered a capital felony offense if the person’s conduct in committing certain cocaine trafficking offenses resulted in the natural – although not inevitable – death of another. In other words, if someone overdoses from cocaine that you sell, you could be facing the death sentence.