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U.S. drug trafficking convictions and penalties

Defendants convicted of importing, transporting or selling drugs almost always go to prison. How long a Milwaukee defendant remains incarcerated following a drug trafficking conviction depends heavily upon the type and quantity of drugs seized by investigators. Over 22,000 of the more than 80,000 cases before the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2013 were drug trafficking cases.

More than 30 percent of all 2013 offenses were linked to drug trafficking, despite a significant 9.6 percent drop in convictions from the previous year.

All but 3 percent of trafficking crimes centered around six controlled substances, with nearly half the offenses involving powder cocaine and methamphetamine. More than 21 percent of convictions were marijuana-related. The bulk of the remaining convictions were for crack cocaine, oxycodone and heroin offenses.

The average drug trafficking defendant in 2013 was a 35-year-old Hispanic male. Almost half the convictions involved defendants with no criminal past. Prison terms averaged 72 months, although terms for meth and crack cocaine lasted substantially longer at 92 to 96 months, respectively, and marijuana traffickers spent as little as 39 months in confinement.

Enhanced penalties were ordered for about 23 percent of offenders, due to having a leadership position in drug trafficking or for weapons possession. Reduced sentences were given to more than half the offenders, either due to low involvement in a drug operation or for qualifying for a sentence under the statutory minimum with safety valve criteria. One in five offenders agreed to help prosecutors investigate and build cases.

The statistics highlight the similarities among convicted drug trafficking defendants, but numbers don't tell the whole story. The consequences for these defendants may last far longer than the prison sentences they received. A felony record severely restricts opportunities for jobs, benefits, education and housing and often damages a defendant's personal relationships.

When possible, Kohn Smith Roth defense attorneys help defendants avoid convictions or suffering anything beyond minimum penalties.

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