When facing a drug trafficking charge, the range of sentences for an alleged offender can vary widely based on certain factors — the schedule of the drug, the amount in question, prior convictions and other elements will affect the judge’s ruling. Florida and federal courts use a complex scoring system to evaluate the severity of offenses and what constitutes an appropriate sentence.

Understanding state and federal drug schedules and sentencing scores can help plan a defense that addresses the more weighty elements of a case.

Federal versus state sentencing

The US Drug Enforcement Agency and each state has a respective controlled substance schedule, and most offenses carry mandatory minimum and maximum sentences. The court that an alleged offender faces will determine which laws apply. If the alleged trafficking occurred within or into state borders, a state court may have jurisdiction, while those who traffic between states or internationally are more likely to see a federal judge.

For example, Florida and the DEA both define cocaine as a schedule II drug, but the associated punishments differ. For a first offense of cocaine trafficking of 5 kg, Florida’s sentence is 15-30 years imprisonment and at least a $250,000 fine while the federal sentence is between ten years imprisonment and a life sentence.

Point values for trafficking crimes

Other drugs carry their own sentencing guidelines, but some factors can increase the sentence of a drug crime. Courts using scoring worksheets that allocate point values to crimes based on the charges and conditions. Florida has a scoring worksheet and the federal courts have another.

One of the easiest ways to increase a score is to be in possession of a firearm at the time of an arrest. This can add a significant number of points to a sentence. Similarly, if the trafficking involves injury to another person, a court will heavily increase any punishments they mete out.

Courts will consider other factors, as well. The location of the crime matters, as trafficking near a school or church can increase the level of the crime and add additional points to the sentence. Prior felony offenses can multiply a sentencing score.

Judges can use their discretion in sentencing within these windows, but only in rare cases may they exceed or reduce them according to relevant laws.

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