Federal Heroin Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles

Most lawyers aren’t experienced in defending criminal cases in federal court, where the prosecutors, judges, and juries are different than they are in California state court. At the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg, we use our extensive federal court experience to aggressively defend people who have any involvement with a heroin case in federal courts throughout Southern California.

Federal Prosecutors Focus Conspiracies to Make, Sell, or Distribute Heroin

Although federal law makes it a crime to possess heroin, federal heroin prosecutions almost never involve cases of simple possession. When a person in the Los Angeles area is found with a small amount of heroin, that case is almost always prosecuted in California state court.

So what makes a federal heroin prosecution different?  Size.  When Federal law enforcement agents decide what to focus on, they spend most of their time looking for and uncovering groups of people who are involved in manufacturing, selling, significant amounts of heroin.  Specifically, federal prosecutors, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), focus on alleged heroin conspiracies.

Under 18 U.S.C. Sections 846, which makes it a crime to be involved in a conspiracy to traffic heroin, people are charged with participating in a conspiracy can be found guilty of all the illegal acts committed by any member of the conspiracy.  Thus, for example, even someone who had a small role in a heroin operation, such as allegedly hiding money associated with the sale of heroin, is often charged with the overall conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, or sell heroin. This is why every person involved in a federal heroin case can face extremely long prison sentences, even if their personal involvement is very minor, or even if they have never met or don’t know anyone else involved in the conspiracy.

How to Avoid The Biggest Mistake In Federal Heroin Investigations

The FBI, DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)) use a common strategy. In order for federal agents to collect more information about a potential heroin conspiracy, they use a variety of tactics to encourage people to talk.  They may, for example, tell someone that they are only a witness.  They may leave their business card on someone’s door or windshield, asking them to call.  They may follow them over a period of days, knowing that many people will crack from the pressure.  Federal agents need people to conclude that talking to them is better than not talking.  But what they don’t tell people is that they may have already obtained damaging documents or statements from other people about the “witness” they are encouraging to talk.

So what do you do if any federal agent has contacted you in connection with your knowledge of or activities related to a heroin case?  Never talk to a federal agent or prosecutor before first speaking with an experienced federal heroin lawyer.  Never.  And if you have already started speaking, stop and immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in defending federal drug cases.

Possession of Heroin

Heroin is derived from the Opium Poppy plant.  In its purest form it is white powder.  When it is less pure, heroin ranges in color from white to brown.  In addition, “black tar” heroin is dark brown or black, and is sticky.  Heroin is commonly called Smack, H, Ska, Junk, Big H, Blacktar, Brown Sugar, Dope, Horse, Junk, Mud, and Skag.

Heroin is an opiate.  It is most frequently injected, although it is increasing being smoked and snorted.  Depending on how it is ingested, heroin gives users a rush within seconds or minutes.  It is highly addictive and users need to use more and more Heroin to achieve the same effects.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, heroin is classified as a Class I substance.  A Class I Controlled Substance is one that has a high potential for abuse, it has no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and there is no accepted safe course if using the substance under medical supervision.

Federal law prohibits the possession of any amount of heroin.  Under 21 U.S.C. Section 844,  someone who has no prior convictions who is convicted of possession of heroin without the intent to sell or distribute (also known as simple possession) can be jailed for up to one year and be ordered to pay a fine of at least $1,000.

Possession of Heroin With An Intent To Sell

There are significantly more extreme penalties under federal law if the Assistant U.S. Attorney (the prosecutor) can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged had an intent to sell heroin.

To prove an intent to sell, federal prosecutors look at various factors including the following:

  • The quantity of Heroin found;
  • How the Heroin is packaged
  • How much money is found near the Heroin or in the possession of the defendant;
  • The absence of paraphernalia suggesting that the Heroin was for personal use.
  • Financial records showing Heroin-related transactions

Trafficking and Manufacture of Heroin

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will use a variety of evidence to determine whether they feel someone is trafficking and/or manufacturing Heroin, including the following:

  • The quantity of the substance that includes a detectible quantity of Heroin;
  • Evidence of manufacture include chemicals such as lye, ammonia, ether, and hydrochloric acid that are needed to transform the Opium Poppy plant into heroin, as well as the derivative products, such as morphine base, that are created during this process.
  • Evidence of distribution of Heroin includes measuring equipment, such as scales, large amounts of cash, and multiple cell phones, and sales records.

Penalties for Manufacture and/or Distribution of Heroin

Under federal law, penalties depend on the quantity of Heroin-mixture involved, whether this is a first or second offense, and whether the distribution of Heroin caused serious bodily harm or death.

For less than 100 grams (about 4 ounces) of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin:

First felony drug offense:     Up to 20 years.

Second felony drug offense: Up to 30 years.

For between 100 grams (about 4 ounces) and 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of a substance containing a detectable amount of Heroin:

First felony drug offense:     5-40 years.

Second felony drug offense: 10 years to life.

When more than 1 kilo (2.2 lbs.) of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin is involved, or when serious bodily injury or death results from the use of heroin, the maximum penalty, even for a first offense, is life in prison.  Federal sentencing law is very complicated and contains numerous exceptions.  Depending on the circumstances of a particular situation, an experienced federal heroin defense lawyer may be able to negotiate a much lower sentence or even no jail time at all.

Why an Experienced Federal Heroin Defense Lawyer Can Help

Given how extreme are the potential punishments under federal law for the manufacture, sale, or distribution of heroin, it is critical that you work with an experienced federal heroin defense lawyer who has local expertise in federal courts. Whether your situation involves the DEA, FBI, or ICE, or whether you may only be a “witness” in a heroin case, or have been accused of being more actively involved in a federal heroin conspiracy, the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg will aggressively defend any heroin-related charge based on our extensive experience in Federal court.

For a confidential consultation, call Los Angeles drug crimes defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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