Knoxville Federal Drug Trafficking Defense Attorney


A Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer Protecting the Rights of People Accused of Drug Trafficking

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, almost half of all federal inmates are incarcerated on drug-related charges. This statistic is even more surprising when you consider the fact that there are hundreds of federal offenses, and no other offense category comes close to American drug-offense statistics. Many of America’s drug offenders people who are in need of rehabilitation and a second chance. Further, many drug trafficking charges should be downgraded to possession charges. Harsh prison sentences will seldom treat the underlying emotional and financial factors contributing to drug offenders and may only serve to increase recidivism.

Almost 77% of all drug offenders are rearrested on another drug offense after their initial conviction. Over-prosecution of drug offenses in combination with the collateral consequences of a drug conviction can make it very difficult for anyone with a drug conviction to move on with their lives, trapping them in a vicious cycle.

At Barnes Law, we know that everyone charged with a serious drug trafficking offense has a unique story. We get to know our clients and help design the best legal strategy for each case. To schedule your free consultation with a Knoxville criminal defense lawyer, call our office today at (865) 269-9296 or contact us online.

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Understanding Federal Drug Trafficking Charges

There is a significant difference between a federal drug trafficking charge and the lesser-included offense of drug possession. There is no parole in the federal court system, and individuals convicted of drug trafficking may spend years in prison. You’re innocent until proven guilty, so federal prosecutors must prove the following elements of drug trafficking beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That you knowingly or intentionally
  • Created, manufactured, distributed, or dispensed or had the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense
  • A controlled substance or controlled substance analog as defined by federal law.

Many federal officials rely on guilty pleas to obtain convictions knowing they only have the evidence necessary to prove possession. For example, what if you were asked to deliver a package that contained cocaine, but you didn’t know it? You did distribute a controlled substance, but you didn’t do it knowingly. You believed you were delivering sneakers. This defeats an essential element of drug trafficking. To determine whether any defenses apply to your case, you should speak to a federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can.


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The penalties for drug trafficking depend on the nature and weight of the substance distributed, your criminal history, and certain aggregating factors. Drug trafficking convictions may result in certain statutory minimum penalties that a judge has no authority to reduce. Drug trafficking carries the following base penalties, which vary based on the type and quantity of the substance and your criminal history:

  • A federal minimum of 5 years (60 months) to a maximum of 40 years for less than 5kgs of cocaine, less than 50gms of a cocaine base, less than 400gms of fentanyl, less than 1kg of heroin, less than 10grms of LSD, less than 50gms of pure methamphetamine, and less than 100gms of pure PCP.
  • If you exceed these minimum quantities or this is a second time offense within the minimum quantities, the penalties increase to a minimum of 10 years and maximum of life with an individual fine of up to $4 million.
  • A federal minimum of 20 years to a maximum of life imprisonment if death or serious injury occurs in the trafficking process or as a result of the distribution or this is a second time offense above the minimum quantities.
  • If you have two or more prior offenses, you are subject to life imprisonment.
  • For marijuana trafficking offenses, there are certain minimum penalties similar to those listed above but these typically require high quantities of marijuana consistent with an enterprise. Remember, just because marijuana is legal in some states does not mean its legal under federal law.
  • For all other controlled substances, including Schedule I, II, III, IV, and V substances, there are no federally mandated minimum penalties unless death or serious injury occurs.

The penalties for drug trafficking offenses are very specific and depend on weight. If any portion of your controlled substances were seized illegally, then we can fight to have the weight of any illegally seized drugs subtracted from your penalty calculations.


Many offenders plead guilty to federal drug trafficking offenses. Cooperating with federal officials may be the best decision for you and your family, but this isn’t always true. Federal prosecutors only have the authority to recommend a sentencing range and sentencing reductions. No matter their assurances, they can neither promise nor set your drug trafficking sentence if you plead guilty. Such decisions are in the hands of the judge alone. The following are potential defenses to a federal drug trafficking charge:

    • You possessed the drug legally, i.e., had a medical prescription,
    • Lack of intent to distribute and/or unknowing distribution,
    • The drugs weren’t found on your personal property or in your possession,
    • Illegal search and seizure of evidence in violation of the 4th Amendment,
    • The substance was not a controlled substance under federal law, or
    • You don’t meet the weight requirements to qualify for drug trafficking.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can analyze the facts of your case and help you make the best decision for you and your family.


Federal charges are serious, and the nature of your prosecution and penalty depend on a number of factors. This includes whether you’ve cooperated with police, your criminal history, your personal history and contributions to society, and any aggravating factors such as possession of a firearm or violence.

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Client Testimonials

"John is amazing not only did he get the outcome he promised he did it in a shorter time than he originally said. He went above and beyond in returning my emails and phone calls. John and staff truly cared about me as a person. I highly recommend John Barnes."

Coach M.

"I would highly recommend Mr. Barnes to everyone & I would definitely contact Mr. Barnes if I or anyone in my family should ever need an attorney again:) They were all very professional, friendly & treated our case with importance:) Mr.Barnes got my son’s DUI dropped to reckless driving so I would definitely recommend him to everyone!!!!!!!"

Alicia U.

"Mr. Barnes and his staff are amazing. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with my case. At no point in the long process was I disappointed in any way with how things were handled."

Scott C.