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Federal Criminal Law Archives

Federal Sentencing Laws May Soon Be Changing

Being investigated, prosecuted, and convicted by a federal court is never a pleasant experience. The long and drawn-out process can wear a person down without ever having a prison sentence imposed on them. But the real anguish comes at sentencing, when a convicted federal defendant has their fate determined. Although many would like to believe otherwise, a sentence is not completely up to a federal judicial officer. Mandatory minimum sentences required by many federal laws play a crucial role in deciding how long a person will be spending behind bars or under a supervised release program. Some of the mandatory sentences have been called particularly harsh and even cruel, but a change may be on the horizon.

Court Issues Limited Decision on the Legality of NSA's PRISM Program

Several years ago, Edward Snowden made national news when he declared that the United States population was under surveillance by the NSA. While the legality of that revelation has generated no small amount of controversy itself, the programs he brought to light also have important implications for the field of criminal law and the Fourth Amendment rights of accused citizens.

"Vague" Portion of Armed Career Criminal Act Struck Down

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held that the "residual phrase" of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which provides a five-year increase in imprisonment for crimes involving conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury, is unconstitutional. This decision was announced in the case of Johnson v. United States.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines: A Primer

All crimes charged in federal court are governed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("guidelines"). These guidelines are created by the United States Sentencing Commission, which was created by Congress in the 1980's. The Guidelines were created in an attempt to equalize the wide disparity of sentences of similarly situated offenders.

Convicted Felons Can Transfer Guns to Approved Third Parties: Henderson v. United States

When an individual is convicted of a felony, he or she loses his right to lawfully possess firearms. If an individual is convicted of a felony drug offense or other felony, he is barred by federal law from possessing guns. The recent Supreme Court case  Henderson v. United States involved the question of whether or not convicted felons are allowed to dictate where their firearms go after their conviction. Can a felon sell his or her previously seized firearms, or does the felon's gift or sale of those firearms constitute the possession that is prohibited by federal law? The Court ruled that a convicted felon can tell federal agencies to transfer his guns to third parties unless this transfer would allow the felon to later control or direct the use of those firearms.

Two Types of Traffic Concerns on Interstate 81

Earlier this year, federal agents were alerted to the transport of a large quantity of ecstasy, otherwise known as MDMA, on the New York side of the Canadian border. Based on information provided by a confidential informant, the transfer of over 400 grams of MDMA was to happen at the well-known junction of Interstate 81 and state Route 104. After failing to stop at a red light, officers pulled the car over and a dog sniff alerted them to drugs in the vehicle. Approximately 470 grams of MDMA were recovered from the center console, which would be worth $30,000 on the street. Both passengers in the vehicle were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance in federal court. While significant in amount, this single example pales in comparison to the drug trafficking concerns plaguing Interstate 81, recently nicknamed "Heroin Highway."

Yates v. United States - Context is Everything...

This blog entry is intended to highlight a part of the law that usually confuses people - words. Please read it as a cautionary tale, keeping in mind that sometimes it takes the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the meaning of a statute in a criminal law case.

Drug Smuggling: What You Should Know

Drug smuggling has been a part of American culture for a long time. Drug use took off in the late 1960s when middle class Americans changed their perspective on drug use, taking it from taboo to fashionable. Drugs became an appendage of social rebellion and protest during an era of political unrest. Over time, government pushed back against the drug culture, and as a result, it passed laws such as the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970. The Act included the Controlled Substances Act which set forth five categories or schedules for regulating drugs based on their medicinal value and potential for addiction.

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