In 1986 federal lawmakers enacted a set of specific sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses. Known as “mandatory minimums,” these strict penalties primarily target high-level distribution organizations.  However, these laws carry potentially severe penalties for lower-level defendants as well. According to the American Bar Association, almost half of prisoners serving federal-level time faced convictions for nonviolent drug crimes.

In North Carolina, mandatory minimum sentencing applies to a wide range of drug offenses, including possession, manufacture/cultivation, delivery and distribution.  Here is a quick overview of how the courts treat different charges. Use it to better understand your rights.

Mandatory minimums in North Carolina

In addition to federal guidelines, North Carolina residents face specific minimum sentences for distributing drugs ranging from about 25 months to 225 months, depending on the type as well as the amount of drug involved. The following are examples of possible sentences:

  • Marijuana: 10 to 50 pounds, 25 months; 50 to 2,000 pounds, 35 months
  • Cocaine: 28 to 200 grams, 35 months; 200 to 400 grams, 70 months
  • Methamphetamine: 28 to 200 grams, 70 months; 200 to 400 grams, 90 months
  • Opiates/Heroine: 4 to 14 grams, 70 months; 14 to 28 grams, 90 months
  • LSD: 28 to 200 grams, 35 months; 200 to 400 grams, 70 months

In some cases, a sentencing judge may choose to impose a shorter prison term if a defendant can provide significant information leading to the identification, arrest or conviction of others involved in distribution or manufacture, including accessories and principal actors.

Those facing potential conviction must realize that, in many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are not up for parole, suspension of sentence or probation. Additionally, a judge may not have the option to choose a more lenient sentence. Seeking legal counsel as soon as a charge comes to bear may help an individual facing charges to minimize or avoid a potentially life-altering judgment.