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Criminal Enterprise

Continuing Criminal Enterprise - 21 U.S. Code § 848

Federal law imposes strict penalties for drug trafficking and distribution violations. However, suppose you are accused of owning, supervising, or managing a drug trafficking enterprise. In that case, you could be charged with a much more severe crime under Title 21 U.S. Code 848 continuing criminal enterprise (CCE).

Often referred to as the "Kingpin Statute," this law targets individuals and organizations that traffic controlled substances on a large scale. A first-time conviction under CCE could land you 20 years to life in federal prison.

Continuing Criminal Enterprise - 21 U.S. Code § 848

In other words, this statute explicitly targets large-scale drug traffickers responsible for extensive drug conspiracies or international drug offenses

21 U.S. Code § 848 covers only major narcotic organizations, which sets it apart from the RICO Act. This law makes it illegal to commit or conspire to commit a series of felony violations of the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.  

Anyone convicted faces harsh penalties and significant fines of up to $2 million, along with the forfeiture of profits. Under a “super kingpin” provision, some offenders could be sentenced to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Anyone who has been indicted with the crime of continuing criminal enterprise needs to retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who is familiar with federal statutes and procedures. Not all lawyers are qualified to handle federal criminal matters.

Depending on the case details, we might be able to negotiate the dismissal of the charges or have them reduced. Perhaps we can arrange a favorable plea deal or obtain a not guilty verdict at trial. Let's review this federal law closer below.

What Is Considered a "Continuing Criminal Enterprise?"

Continuing criminal enterprise (CCE) is defined as a violation of any federal drug trafficking statute that is part of a "continuing series of violations" of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention Act of 1970 when the acts are taken by five or more people.

The law specifically targets "kingpins," or those who somehow supervise ongoing drug trafficking operations. If you're charged with this crime, federal prosecutors must establish critical elements: 

  • you were involved in a drug trafficking operation; 
  • the operation violated one or more federal drug laws identified under Subchapter I or Subchapter II of Title 21 Chapter 13;
  • you supervised at least five other people who were also involved in this operation;
  • you must have been a manager, organizer, or supervisor of the continued operation;
  • you must have acquired substantial income or resources due to the drug violations.

Any lesser involved people in the drug ring will not usually face a conviction under this statute, but they still could be charged with other related drug crimes.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Ronald is recruited into an illegal drug trafficking organization and works his way up the chain until he is responsible for distributing heroin for the organization across the Southeastern United States.

The drug ring is subjected to a DEA raid, and Ronald and dozens of others are arrested. Because Ronald supervised a significant number of people in the operation, although he wasn't the head of it, he can be charged for operating a continuing criminal enterprise.

Federal Drug Transportation

EXAMPLE 2: Pamela, in need of cash, begins selling MDMA (aka, "ecstasy") at clubs and raves in her area. While meeting with her supplier, she is swept up in a federal drug raid. Although Pamela may be charged with other federal crimes, she will not be charged under the CCE Statute because she was a single distributor and not in a leadership role.

How is continuing criminal enterprise different from RICO? Since the CCE Statute deals with organized crime (i.e., drug trafficking), it's easy to confuse it with RICO, which is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The difference is that RICO is a federal law that covers various criminal activities associated with organized crime, including racketeering, money laundering, and other crimes. The CCE Statute, however, targets explicitly drug trafficking operations. Both, however, come with potentially severe sentences.

What Are the Penalties for Violations?

Being convicted of a CCE offense will normally result in significant penalties for the accused. The minimum sentence is 20 years in prison, and the penalties only go up. Here's a look at the breakdown below.

  • For a first-time conviction: 20 years to life imprisonment, plus a maximum fine of $2 million, or $5 million, or an entity other than an individual. You would also forfeit any profits made from the operation.
  • For subsequent convictions: 30 years to life imprisonment, plus double the maximum fines.
  • If you're involved in intentionally killing anyone during the course of operations: you can be sentenced to death.

The "Super Kingpin" Provision

In 1984, 21 U.S. Code § 848 was amended to include an enhanced penalty for so-called "super kingpins"—leaders of excessively large-scale drug operations. Under this provision, the minimum sentence for a CCE violation is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. For this sentence to be imposed, prosecutors must show that:

  • You were a "principal" operator in the organization; AND
  • The organization trafficked at least 300 times the amount of drugs needed to trigger a mandatory 5-year sentence; OR
  • The organization grossed at least $10 million in a single year.

What Are the Defenses For These Charges?

If you've been charged with continuing criminal enterprise, you must understand that you're facing some of the most severe federal charges possible. It would help if you had an experienced and aggressive federal criminal defense attorney on your side.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution has to prove you committed a previous offense and subsequently committed a related drug crime pattern. The prior crime has to be related and occur over some time. Proving an isolated drug offense won't be sufficient for a conviction under 21 U.S. Code § 848.

Defense for Federal Continuing Criminal Enterprise Charges

We will review all the case details and any alleged connection to drug dealing in California. Some of the legal defenses we may use are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you weren't in a position of authority in the organization. Specifically, you were either an individual agent or supervised fewer than five people.

This is often a crucial element to challenge for people involved in the drug organization but not in a leadership role. You can't be convicted under this law if the prosecution cannot prove a significant role.

There must be evidence that the defendant worked or acted as a supervisor or organizer, instructing others in an employer-type capacity, such as making arrangements for money laundering, negotiating significant purchases, and related activities.

Perhaps we can argue that you didn't know that the organization was involved in drug trafficking. For example, you may have had a role in a "shell company" that served as a front for drug trafficking, but you were kept in the dark about the company's true purpose and activities.

For a case review and to discuss legal options, contact us by phone or fill out the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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