DC Drug Sentencing

Most criminal drug cases in Washington, DC are prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office and heard in the District of Columbia Superior Courthouse. When a person faces a drug possession charge, possession with intent to distribute charge, or a distribution charge, their criminal case is heard in the DC Superior Court. Some federal drug crimes are charged and heard in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a federal court.

The federal court has jurisdiction over federal crimes prosecuted in Washington, DC. Some people are confused about whether a crime is a federal crime in the District because there is so much federal land and federal property in Washington, DC. Most drug crimes prosecuted are charged as local offenses even if they are allegedly committed on federal property such as the National Mall, inside a federal building, or on national parkland. It may be imperative to speak to an experienced narcotics attorney about how DC drug sentencing is handled.

Drug Sentencing Expectations

When a person is accused under DC law of being in possession of an illegal substance, even if the allegation is that the person committed the crime at the National Mall, usually those charges are heard in DC Superior Court and charged as local offenses. Simple drug possession charges are rarely heard in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Drug offenses heard in federal courts are more likely to involve allegations of distribution of large quantities of controlled substances or allegations of trafficking of controlled substances across state lines. In those situations, a person may have their case heard in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The rules and possible penalties a person could face are different in the United States District Court compared to the offenses and potential penalties a person might face for a local crime heard in the DC Superior Court.

What is the Severity of Narcotics Penalties

When the person faces sentencing on a drug crime because they plead guilty or are found guilty after a trial, the judge presiding over the case has the final say on DC drug sentencing. In misdemeanor cases, judges have the option of imposing specific levels of incarceration. Sometimes a person might be eligible to receive probation instead of incarceration.

The defense attorney can make arguments to the judge for leniency to minimize jail time exposure and to make sure the judge understands the individual’s personal circumstances, potential addictions, family circumstances, child care obligations, and other factors that could be helpful in minimizing the accused’s penalty.

For sentencing in felony cases, judges have a maximum possible penalty for the person convicted of the crime. Judges also have voluntary sentencing guidelines that provide recommended ranges of penalties that are typically lower than the maximum possible penalty.

Understanding Sentencing Guidelines When Determining Drug Case Outcomes

Judges typically consider two main factors for the DC voluntary sentencing guidelines. The first factor is the severity of the crime of which the person is found guilty. The guidelines range from a score of one for the more severe crimes to nine for the least severe. Sentencing guidelines always relate to felony cases, not misdemeanor cases. The lower the severity level, the lower the sentencing range that a person would face.

The second factor is the person’s criminal history. A person with no criminal history may have lower sentencing ranges. A person with higher levels of criminal history, meaning more prior convictions, is eligible for higher sentencing ranges in the voluntary sentencing guidelines. An important factor for defense attorneys is that sentencing guideline ranges are voluntary. They are not mandatory and judges are not required by law to follow them.

Speaking with a Defense Lawyer Before a Drug Trial

In many situations, the defense attorney could argue for departures from the sentencing guidelines ranges. When there are certain factors present in a person’s case, they may be eligible to get a sentence even lower than what DC drug sentencing guidelines suggest. It is most important in felony sentencing that defense attorneys know the accused’s voluntary guidelines range.

The attorney could explore potential factors for departures to convince the judge that a lower sentence than the guideline range might be appropriate. That may help minimize a person’s possible jail time exposure and get them released early. It might even help the person avoid jail time altogether, even in more serious felony cases.