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Federal conviction on drug charges can mean long sentence

The federal government's War on Drugs rages on in the U.S. and the Pittsburgh area is not excluded from this campaign. Residents found guilty of drug possession or trafficking in federal court can expect to face potentially severe punishment under federal sentencing guidelines, which often include mandatory minimums. These congressionally-created guidelines often result in judges' ability to consider a defendant's individual circumstances are strictly limited.

As a result, people can end up being sentenced to decades in prison for non-violent offenses. That could be what will happen to a Chester County man who was charged in federal court with drug trafficking on April 16. Prosecutors claim that the man, 36, was indicted on suspicion of selling prescription drugs and attempting to sell heroin in a later incident. It appears that the heroin claims stem from an undercover operation involving local police and the FBI.

Due to a prior drug conviction, the defendant could be sentenced to decades in prison if convicted, the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case said.

While everyone accused of violating federal drug laws is entitled to a legal defense, sometimes the greatest help a defense attorney can provide is during the sentencing phase if the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty. The law still provides some ability for judges to depart from the sentencing guidelines' formulas to impose a shorter or less onerous sentence. A defense attorney can help argue that a defendant does not deserve to spend decades behind bars by explaining the circumstances behind the defendant's actions.

Source: The Tribune-Democrat, "City man facing drug charges," David Hurst, April 16, 2013

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