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DC Federal Drug Charges

There are a number of drug charges that may be brought forth in the District of Columbia. The charges can be confusing to understand, because of their nuances and how they might apply to the federal court instead of the state or county court. If you have been charged with one of the following drug charges, contact a DC federal drug lawyer as soon as possible, in order to begin building the best defense possible depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.

First Steps to Take

When someone faces federal drug charges in DC, one of the first steps is to call an attorney. Next, the person should not speak to anyone but that attorney about their case, including avoiding speaking to law enforcement. Additionally, a person should not destroy or attempt to destroy anything in their possession because that can be used as evidence against them, and they should not try to run away as that can also be used as evidence against them.

Jurisdiction of Drug Charges

A person can be charged by the US government for federal drug crimes that happened outside of the United States. Typically, the government must prove a link between the United States and the activity outside of the United States. Sometimes, all the government has to show in a drug case, for example, is that money related to drugs was transferred to a particular bank and the bank is outside of the United States, or that there was wire transfer and that transfer was routed through a server in the United States. In some cases, that is all prosecutors need to charge a case in the United States even though all of the physical activity occurred outside the United States.

Types of Charges

There are a variety of federal drug crimes that a person can be charged with in Washington, DC. Typically, the sentences for federal drug cases are much longer and there are mandatory minimum sentences that are usually much longer in federal cases. Additionally, the investigations are long-term and the federal government generally investigates the cases more thoroughly.


Drug possession is usually not something charged in federal court unless there is a situation where someone is accused of possessing drugs on federal land such as a federal park.

Unless a person is in an area where they have those large areas of federal land that people might frequent, that is not a common charge. For example in the District of Columbia, if someone is accused of possessing cocaine on the National Mall, which is federal land, they are usually charged with a misdemeanor in local court.


Drug manufacturing is a relatively rare charge. It is unusual for that charge to be brought because it typically involves someone accused of manufacturing some sort of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy, or drugs of that nature.


The term drug trafficking is typically related to extremely large quantities of drugs. It involves someone who is accused of being part of a drug cartel, perhaps from somewhere in outside of the United States, who is accused of drug trafficking. Essentially, the charge of drug trafficking is brought under the structure of a conspiracy charge.

In the drug context, the government often goes after alleged smaller scale operations involving two or three people. It depends on the quantity of the drugs, however, there are federal drug cases where no drugs are recovered. The charge is based on phone calls and other communications. The government can prove a conspiracy to sell drugs and legally, they do not necessarily need the drugs to do that.


Conspiracy means two or more people make an agreement to do something. Conspiracy cases involving multiple defendants are the bread and butter of federal law enforcement. The minimum number of people who are charged is from two up and can range to extremely high numbers, sometimes over 20. Many times people are charged in these cases and may not know, have met, or talked to some of the people who are also charged with the conspiracy.

Unlike other conspiracy cases, in drug conspiracies, a person does not need an overt act to be charged, however, the government must show that the person intended to participate in that conspiracy. That usually translates into the government proving some sort of action taken as part of a conspiracy.

With respect to attempt charges, the government must show a substantial step that would cause the person to engage in a particular activity. Usually, an attempt is not charged in conspiracy cases. It would be very difficult for a jury to comprehend  the idea that someone attempted to agree to participate in something illegal- what constitutes the attempt? That is not a typical charge in the state as it relates to conspiracy cases.

Additionally, there is an exception to the hearsay rule, called a co-conspirator statement, which can be used in court. For example, if 10 people are charged in a conspiracy case, and one of the people charged takes a guilty plea six months before trial, their statements can be used against a person in trial, and that person does not have to come in to testify and be subject to cross-examination for a full explanation of their statements.

Public Record

If a person is charged federally, there is a record and it is public with rare exceptions. There is an online computer database called PACER that includes all charges and records of federal cases. If a person is convicted of a federal drug charge, it remains on their criminal record forever and there is no way to expunge it from their record in the future.

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