Federal drug trafficking crimes are usually extremely serious and can have many consequences for the person charged with the crime. The punishment for first offenses can range between 2-10 years. At the Border Defense Network, our experienced attorneys can help you fight your federal drug trafficking charges. We understand the nuance and differences between state and federal charges and will use all the strategies, tactics, and experience gained to your benefit.

Bags of drugs

21 U.S.C. § 841​ | Drug Trafficking

This statute makes it illegal to knowingly or intentionally manufacture, distribute, or possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances. California has similar laws, and often the U.S. Government will pass their case to the state for prosecution under California law.

Knowingly Or Intentionally

The government can establish the knowledge element of Section 841 (a) in either of two ways:

  • The knowledge requirement may be met by showing that the defendant knew he possessed a substance listed on the [controlled substance] schedules;
  • The knowledge requirement may also be met by showing that the defendant knew the identity of the substance he possessed. As long as the government proves the defendant knows he was dealing in heroin, it need not prove that the defendant knew the particular type or quantity of the controlled substance he intended to distribute.

When a defendant claims no guilty knowledge, the circumstances may warrant a willful blindness instruction to the jury. The willful blindness instruction, sometimes called the deliberate ignorance or “ostrich head in the sand” instruction, is warranted if

  1. The defendant claims lack of knowledge; 
  2. The evidence would support an inference that the defendant consciously engaged in the course of deliberate ignorance; and
  3. The proposed instruction, as a whole, could not lead the jury to conclude that an inference of knowledge is mandatory.”


Federal laws prohibiting drug manufacturing covers many aspects of the illegal drug trade. It’s a federal drug offense to knowingly or intentionally manufacture unlawful controlled substances, and a conviction in federal court carries severe legal consequences.

Drug manufacturing is simply when one produces or makes an attempt to produce drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, or LSD.

Federal drug manufacturing charges under 21 U.S.C. § 841 can be filed against anyone who participates in the drug production process. This includes anyone providing chemicals or equipment that is used in manufacturing illegal drugs or controlled substances. It also includes anyone who manages the drug manufacturing facility and anyone who agrees to assist in the manufacturing process.


Federal drug distribution covers various domestic drug crimes, but is most often used in transportation and/or sales charges. Under the U.S. Criminal Code, the term “distribute” means to deliver a controlled substance or a listed chemical. The term “distributor” means a person who delivers a controlled substance or a listed chemical.

Federal drug distribution charges under 21 U.S.C. § 841 can be filed against anyone who participates in drug transportation or sales. Including anyone providing chemicals or equipment that is used in manufacturing illegal drugs or controlled substances.

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Drug crimes range in severity from state crimes like possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia to felony crimes such as drug trafficking and drug conspiracy. Certain drug crimes can be prosecuted in federal court, and possession with intent to distribute is often determined by the quantity of drugs confiscated and the circumstances around the arrest. The federal Government does not like to lose criminal cases and will pass cases to the state prosecutor that they deem unworthy of their time or expense.

In California, federal drug crimes can include manufacturing, trafficking, smuggling illegal drugs, and marijuana cultivation. It is very important for those facing a federal drug crime charge that you have qualified legal counsel on your side. California Law varies widely between a misdemeanor and felony charges, and usually depends on the type of drug and quantity seized.

The state of California leads the nation in drug offender incarceration and has seen a huge increase in the number of offenders sentenced to state prisons. If you are convicted of a federal drug offense, it often results in a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Defending and Beating Drug Trafficking Cases

Defense Strategies for Drug Charges

Drug trafficking charges often arise from situations in which the prosecution has only circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s intent to distribute, rather than solid proof that the defendant engaged in the sale or distribution of a controlled substance. For example, if you are caught with a large amount of cocaine in your possession, or a large amount of cash from alleged cocaine sales, you could face distribution charges, even if you aren’t caught actually selling the drugs. This leaves room for your criminal defense attorney to challenge the prosecutor’s case by raising a compelling defense that refutes their version of events.

Common legal strategies your attorney may be able to use to defend against drug trafficking charges include the following:

  • You were unaware of the illicit nature of the substance
  • You were not in possession of the substance
  • You were the victim of entrapment
  • Someone used you as a “Blind Mule” to carry drugs without your knowledge
  • The Government’s evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure
  • There was no intent to sell or distribute the drugs
  • The arresting officer did not have probable cause to stop or detain you


The Border Defense Network is determined to help you and your family when you are faced with state or federal investigations or criminal charges. Fill out the form below, and we will be in touch.

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