Criminal Defense

Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Federal Cases

Federal law is very different than state law. Not every law firm can defend against federal charges. We do. If you are charged with a federal offense, it means the United States Government is prosecuting you for a crime. If you have been charged with a federal offense in Arizona, then you are being prosecuted in the Federal District of Arizona. The two main courthouses are located in Phoenix and Tucson. Here are some common federal charges in Arizona:

Possession with Intent to Distribute Drugs

The most common federal cases involve drugs. This is particularly true in Arizona. It is illegal to possess, transport, or manufacture illegal drugs under 21 U.S. Code § 841. The following are some illegal drugs under federal law: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl. Many cases in Arizona start at the border. At ports of entry, border patrol agents have sophisticated technology that helps them detect illegal drugs. For example, if an agent has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, he can x-ray your vehicle to look for drugs hidden inside. Some vehicles have hidden compartments that conceal the drugs. Other vehicles hide the drugs in the gas tank.

The seriousness of a federal drug case depends on two things: 1) what is the drug? and 2) how much of the drug is there? Transporting a pound of marijuana would be considered a less serious federal drug offense. Transporting 25 pounds of methamphetamine would be considered a very serious drug offense. Certain drug charges carry mandatory minimum sentences. A mandatory minimum sentence means that the judge cannot sentence you to less than what is required under the law. For example, if a person is convicted of possessing 25 pounds of meth, the judge cannot sentence that person to less than 10 years in prison. That person will serve at least 10 years in the Bureau of Prisons.

There are ways to avoid mandatory minimum sentences under the law. First, a defendant could be safety valve eligible. To be safety valve eligible, a defendant must meet the following criteria:

  1. the defendant does not have substantial criminal history;
  2. the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense;
  3. the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person;
  4. the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined in section 408 of the Controlled Substances Act; and
  5. not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Government is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement.

Safety-valve eligibility is determined by the judge at the time of sentencing. While an attorney cannot guarantee safety-valve eligibility, they should be able to give you an educated opinion as to whether or not you qualify.

Another way to avoid mandatory minimum sentences is through cooperation with the Government. This is done in secret. If you provide truthful and useful information, the Government will file a motion called a “5K1” which asks the judge to give less than the mandatory minimum sentence.


Our attorneys here at Alcock and Associates have handled several hundreds of federal cases throughout the years and we completely comprehend how the system works. One must keep in mind that every Federal Case is different and it depends on the facts of the situation and the case. Furthermore, it is important to know that federal cases move substantially faster compared to other criminal cases. If you or a loved one are facing federal charges, please do not hesitate to contact us so that we can look into your case completely free.

Below is a brief list of federal charges we have successfully handled in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona:

  • Drug Conspiracy Offenses
  • Weapons Offenses
  • Alien Smuggling
  • White Collar Crimes
  • Drug Possession

Illegal Re-Entry

Illegal re-entry is when a person has been deported from the United States and comes back without permission. This offense is outlined under 8 U.S.C. 1326. Absent criminal history or other aggravating factors, a conviction for illegal re-entry will carry a sentence of 0-6 months in prison. However, there are several factors which can enhance a defendant’s sentence. For example, if a person has been deported after sustaining a felony conviction and then re-enters the country illegally, they are looking at substantially more prison time. Also, if a person has been removed from the United States on more than one occasion, and keeps coming back without permission, they are facing more prison time. The range of sentence for illegal re-entry really depends on the specific facts of your case.

Transporting Illegal Aliens

Another common federal offense in Arizona is Smuggling Illegal Aliens for Profit. This crime is outlined under 8 U.S.C. 1324. Basically, if a person knows or has reason to know that they are transporting illegal aliens into or inside the United States, they have violated the law. Sometimes, transporting illegal aliens is just a misunderstanding. If a defendant offers a person a ride, and it turns out that person does not have legal status in the United States, a conviction is unlikely.

A person’s sentence can be enhanced if they are transporting illegal aliens for profit. If a defendant is smuggling people for a financial benefit, they are facing more prison time. This is also true if the people they are smuggling are under the age of 18, or have been harmed in the process of being transported.

Money Laundering

Money laundering is a financial crime that derives from another offense. It is outlined under 18 U.S. Code § 1956. If a person makes money from doing something illegal, that constitutes money laundering. The classic example is a person who sells drugs. Drug money is laundered money.

Another example of money laundering is when a person tries to conceal the nature of the illegal proceeds. An example of this might be a mobster that owns a restaurant. If the restaurant is being used as a front to hide drug money, that is money laundering.

Money laundering does not require the money to belong to you. For example, if a defendant transfers money for a friend, and he knows (or had reason to know) that friend’s money came from illegal activity, the defendant has committed money laundering. A sentence for money laundering depends on the amount of money involved.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The biggest difference between State and Federal law is sentencing. The federal sentencing guidelines are very complicated. Each crime has a correlating offense level, and each offense level carries a certain amount of time in prison. Once you determine your offense level, you then must consider sentencing enhancements and sentencing reductions. A sentencing enhancement increases the offense level and the amount of time in prison. A sentencing reduction decreases the offense level and the amount of time in prison. Offense level enhancements and reductions depend on the facts of your case and a plea agreement.

Another part of federal sentencing is a defendant’s criminal history category. There are six criminal history categories and each category is based upon a point system. If you have no criminal history or 1 criminal history point, you are in criminal history category 1. If you have a prior felony conviction and were on probation at the time you committed a federal offense, you likely have 4-6 criminal history points and are in criminal history category 3. The greater your criminal history category, the greater your sentence will be. Below is a photo of the federal sentencing table. This is the document used to determine a person’s possible sentence.

Sentencing Table

Frequently Asked Questions about Federal Law

Here are some frequently asked questions about federal offenses in Arizona:

    1. If I am charged with a crime that has a mandatory minimum sentence, can I get less time than the mandatory minimum?
      Yes, if you: 1) lack criminal history, 2) did not make violent threats, 3) did not use a firearm, 4) were not the leader or organizer of the offense, and 5) are honest about your involvement with probation, it is possible to get a sentence below the mandatory minimum. It is also possible if you cooperate in a Government investigation.
    2. Can I get a bond in a federal case?
      Generally speaking, federal courts in Arizona do not release people on bond. Defendants are either released to pretrial services or detained pending trial. Whether a person is released or detained is determined at the beginning of a case at a Detention Hearing. In preparation for a Detention Hearing, the probation office will draft a report to the judge called a Pretrial Services Report. That report will contain a recommendation as to release or detention.

Can I know what my sentence will be before I take a plea?
The short answer is no. A good attorney will give you an accurate estimate of your sentencing range. However, federal judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to federal sentencing hearings. You need an attorney who thoroughly prepares for sentencing and presents all mitigation to the judge. Mitigation is everything about a person that warrants leniency and mercy. A good attorney will show the judge that a defendant is much more than the charges alleged against him or her.

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Here at Alcock and Associates our team and staff are dedicated to helping and representing YOU. The first step is to understand your case. We will take the time to get to know you and your legal situation so that we are best able to answer all of your questions. After your initial consultation with our attorneys, you will know what you are facing and what can happen to your case.


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Alcock & Associates P.C.
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