Federal Meth Charges and Penalties.

Methamphetamine charges are the top federal-drug crime in America. The reason is simple. Meth is cheap to create. And it makes money. But federal-methamphetamine charges carry heavy penalties.

Chiefly, courts treat meth dealers harshly. As a result, judges give meth dealers higher jail terms as compared to other drug offenders.

In particular, three factors raise the jail term for meth crimes. They are the weight of the meth. The quantity of meth. And dangerous facts connected to the deal.

Fortunately, anyone facing a federal-methamphetamine charge has options. He may qualify for safety valve. Or he may qualify for 5K1.1 government help. These are the top two options for most drug offenders. In addition, he may get a lower jail term if he played a small role in the crime. We will discuss each of these options below.

Most importantly, a person charged with a federal meth crime should know how the federal drug laws work. This includes knowing your rights. For example, there are two questions every person accused of a crime should ask. First, did the person do the crime? Second, if he did, then what do we do about it?

This post will answer the second question. It will provide real options for someone charged with a federal meth crime who wants to tap out. But no one should ever over look the first question. We have written about it before. If you are not sure about what to do, then read that post. It will provide an overview of how to make the right call for your case.

How much jail time do federal methamphetamine dealers usually get?

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) keeps detailed records on the jail time meth dealers get. According to the USSC, judges gave meth dealers an average jail term of 95 months. That is just under 8 years in jail. These numbers are for fiscal year 2020.

Federal Methamphetamine Prison Terms. San Antonio, Texas Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Genaro Cortez.
The table lists the average jail term for the top seven drug crimes in 2020.

These seven crimes are:

(A) Methamphetamine-95 months; (B) Crack Cocaine-74 months; (C) Heroin-66 months; (D) Powder Cocaine-66 months; (E) Reefer-29 months; (F) Fentanyl-61 months; and (G) Oxy-39 months.

Reefer cases carried the lowest jail terms. And meth cases carried the highest jail terms.

Finally, more than 98% of meth dealers received jail terms.

In contrast, crack-cocaine crimes have the next highest jail term. The average sentence for these charges is 74 months. That is a little over six years in jail. Similarly, the average jail term for the other five drug crimes is considerably lower than for a meth charge.

Several factors cause this problem. One factor is that meth cases make up the majority of federal drug crimes. The pie chart below illustrates this point.

Federal Meth Charges. Affordable Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer. Genaro Cortez
Federal methamphetamine charges were the most common federal drug crime in America in 2020.

Meth cases made up over 46% of federal drug crimes in 2020. Powder cocaine was the second most common federal drug crime in America. But it made up less than 17% of drug crimes. In other words, federal meth charges more than doubled the next closest drug. This helps explain why there is such a big difference between the average jail term for meth as compared to the other drugs.

But this is not the only factor. In fact, there is a better reason. And it is tied directly to the drug penalties and sentencing guidelines.

Penalties for Federal Methamphetamine Drug Charges.

The table below lists the top penalties for federal methamphetamine charges. Most of all, the table shows how both the amount and purity of meth will increase the potential jail term. In short, the higher the purity and quantity, the higher the jail term.

Penalties for Federal Methamphetamine Charges under 21 USC § 841(b).

The table points out how the punishment is tied to two drug types. Meth-actual and Meth-mixture.

Meth-actual refers to the weight of the drug itself contained in the mixture or substance. For example, a mixture containing 10 grams of meth at 50% purity contains 5 grams of meth actual.

In addition, "ICE" means a mixture or substance containing d-methamphetamine hydrochloride of at least 80% purity.

Also, the drug type and quantity are also tied to the sentencing guidelines. USSG §2D1.1 is the guideline for drug cases. This guideline takes into account not only the purity, but also the quantity of meth.

As a consequence, the drug penalties and sentencing guidelines work together to push up the jail term for meth cases.

Finally, the table illustrates how defense lawyers and prosecutors can use the drug quantity to work out an agreement. If no drug quantity is specified in the indictment or information, then the range of punishment drops significantly. This is also one way to avoid mandatory minimum sentences.
DrugQuantityMinimumMaximum
Meth-Acutal5 grams or more.5 years.40 years.
Meth-Mixture50 grams or more.5 years.40 years.
Meth-Actual50 grams or more.10 years.Life.
Meth-Mixture500 grams or more.10 years.Life.
Meth-either mixture or actual.No quantity specified in the Information or Indictment.0 years20 years.

What are other factors that can increase the jail term for a federal meth charge?

USSG §2D1.1(b) contains a laundry lists of facts that will increase the jail term in federal meth cases. But two factors stand out in meth cases. They are possessing a dangerous weapon and being a leader or organizer in the crime. According to the USSG, judges increased a jail term for weapons in about 25% of the cases. And they also increased the jail term for leaders and organizers in about 6% of the cases.

How do I get a lower jail term on a federal meth charge?

There are several ways to get a lower jail term in federal meth cases. First, qualify for safety valve. To qualify, a person must meet the following requirements:

  1. Not have more than 4 criminal history points. In other words, have a relatively clean record;
  2. Not use violence, threats of violence, or a weapon during the crime;
  3. Nobody died during the crime;
  4. Not be a leader or organizer in the crime; and
  5. Tell the government everything he knows about the crime before he is sentenced.

The second option is to get a government motion for substantial assistance. That means the person must fully cooperate with the government. This may include taking the witness stand as a government witness.

To see how safety valve and 5K1.1 motions work, click here.

Third, qualify for a minor-role adjustment. USSG §3B1.2 allows a judge to lower a jail term if the person played either a minor or minimal role in the crime. Many judges are reluctant to grant this request. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to ask for this option. At worst, the judge will say no. But if he says yes, this can significantly lower the jail term.

Affordable Federal Drug Lawyer in San Antonio

Federal drug crimes are often tragic. Not only for the users, but also for the dealers. Notably, federal methamphetamine penalties are especially harsh. However, a person charged with federal drug offense has options to lower his jail term. He maybe eligible for safety valve. He may also qualify for substantial assistance. Or he may get a minor role adjustment.

In short, a person charged with a federal drug crime should speak with a qualified attorney to discuss his or her options. Because getting the right legal advice may help you get a lower jail term.

Law Office of Genaro R. Cortez, P.L.L.C.

730 West Hildebrand Avenue
Suite 2,
San Antonio, Texas 78212
Phone: 210-733-7575
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Email: genaro.cortez@cortezlawyer.org