While fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenders still make up a small proportion of federal drug trafficking defendants, the number of offenders have sharply increased over the last few years, and defendants are facing high sentences.
In January of 2021, the United States Sentencing Commission published a report examining key findings about the rise of fentanyl offenders within the legal system. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic, is approximately 30 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl analogues are substances that are chemically or pharmacologically similar to fentanyl. Since 2015, the number of offenders has doubled each fiscal year, resulting in a 3,592% increase in offenders. Nearly half of fentanyl offenders are also trafficking other substances, and nearly all offenders are trafficking illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogue. Alarming statistics surround these offenders: roughly one-third of these offenders are selling fentanyl as something different, and nearly 10 percent are intentionally misrepresenting the substance–most often as heroin or prescription opioids. More alarming still is that approximately three-quarters of all drug trafficking offenders sentenced where the offense of conviction established the death or serious bodily injury resulted from fentanyl or fentanyl analogue use. There is ample evidence that fentanyl is lethal, and fentanyl analogues are more lethal still than fentanyl. As such fentanyl analogue offenders receive, on average, longer sentences compared to fentanyl offenders and have the longest average sentence of any major drug type sentence in the federal system.
For fentanyl offenses, trafficking involving less than 40 grams, the statutory maximum term of imprisonment is 20 years and there is no mandatory minimum penalty. Trafficking 40 grams or more, but less than 400 grams, triggers a five-year mandatory minimum with a statutory maximum of 40 years. Trafficking 400 grams or more of fentanyl triggers a ten-year mandatory minimum, with a statutory maximum term of life. The mandatory minimum penalties may also be increased if the offense caused death or serious bodily injury. Regardless of the quantity, if death or serious bodily injury resulted from the fentanyl or analogue offense, the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment is 20 years and the maximum is life. While average sentence times have fluctuated over the last few years, in 2019 the average sentence for a fentanyl analogue offender was 97 months and the average sentence for a fentanyl offender was 74 months. Regardless, a fentanyl conviction is a serious matter that can land a defendant in prison for life.*
*Disclaimer: Nothing contained herein is intended to be legal advice and shall not be construed as such. Readers of this blog should contact their attorney on any particular legal matter. No reader, user, or browser of this site, should act or refrain from acting, on the basis of this information on this site without first seeking legal advice in the relevant jurisdiction.