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Sentencing Guidelines Vary Widely for State and Federal Drug Crimes

An Eastern Washington man arrested with 11 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and more than a pound of heroin was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Ivan Angulo-Montoya, 25, is charged with distribution of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The News Tribune stated that the defendant faces at least 10 years in prison for each offense.

Aggravating Circumstances

It's difficult to know exactly how much prison time he faces if convicted. Federal and state judges consider a wide variety of factors when imposing sentences. These factors, known as "aggravating circumstances," can greatly increase or decrease the potential consequences of a criminal conviction.

As an example, for the federal crime of trafficking/possession of illegal drugs with intent to distribute, the sentence can vary depending on which type of drug was involved in the crime. Under federal law, trafficking methamphetamine is a more serious crime than trafficking marijuana, so those charged with trafficking meth face more severe penalties.

Other aggravating circumstances include:

  • The amount of the drug in question; the larger the amount, the more prison time possible
  • Possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon during the commission of the drug-related crime
  • Using an aircraft to import drugs or transport them across state lines
  • Trafficking at a correctional facility
  • Marketing a drug on the Internet
  • Creating a risk of substantial harm to the environment, specifically through the manufacturing of drugs like crystal meth
  • A criminal record - people determined to be "career offenders" face longer sentences

It should be noted that federal sentencing guidelines are essentially suggestions to judges, who can at their discretion impose sentences above or below the suggestions in the guidelines.

For example, a person charged with possession with intent to distribute 100 grams of cocaine could face 27 to 33 months in federal prison if convicted. Should aggravating circumstances exist (such as two prior convictions which required serving at least a year each, and possession of a firearm at the time of the drug-related offense) could face a sentence of 41 to 51 months instead.

Washington State Drug Crimes

Generally, Washington state sentencing guidelines aren't as harsh as those suggested by the federal government. Like the federal judges, the state also considers aggravating circumstances like prior convictions, weapon possession, the involvement of minors or committing drug-related crimes near protected zones like parks or schools.

A person facing a charge of simple possession in a Washington state court may get sentenced to court-ordered drug treatment rather than jail time. Probation is another option that could be available for both first-time offenders or for defendants with a relatively minor criminal record (depending on the number and type of convictions).

If you are being charged with a federal or state drug crime in the Seattle area, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney to learn more about your legal options, protect your rights and begin to fight for your freedom.