Upon conviction, from either a plea or trial verdict, the next phase is sentencing.  Depending upon whether you are in state court or federal court, the sentencing rules and guidelines will vary. drug sentencing

A. Ohio State Court Sentencing 

With regard to Ohio’s principles in sentencing, Ohio law provides as follows:

  • Sentencing courts must always consider the need for incarceration, deterrence, rehabilitation of the offender, and restitution to the victim and/or the public.
  • Sentences should be commensurate with, and not demeaning to, the seriousness of the offender’s conduct and its impact on the victim, and consistent with sentences for similar crimes by similar offenders.
  • Courts shall not sentence based on the offender’s race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

There are specific sentencing guidelines in Ohio for drug cases, largely depending upon the quantity of drugs involved in the case.  Sentencing judges will, of course, refer to those guidelines when sentencing drug possession or drug trafficking offenses as required in Ohio’s criminal statutes. 

That said, it is within an Ohio sentencing judge’s discretion to sentence a defendant to whatever sentence the judge thinks is appropriate as long it falls somewhere in the range specified by Ohio statute.  Any deviation in sentencing that goes outside those ranges will result in an appellate court reversing the sentence. 

In addition to prison time, Ohio judges also have a number of sentencing options that include probation, drug treatment, and community service. 

Here is a basic look at the penalties that a defendant could face following a drug conviction.

  • Minor misdemeanor – maximum $150 fine
  • 4th degree misdemeanor – maximum 30 days jail, and/or maximum $250 fine
  • 3rd degree misdemeanor – maximum 60 days jail, and/or maximum $500 fine
  • 2nd degree misdemeanor - maximum 90 days jail, and/or maximum $750 fine
  • 1st degree misdemeanor - maximum 180 days jail, and/or maximum $1,000 fine
  • 5th degree felony – 6-12 months prison, and/or maximum $2,500 fine
  • 4th degree felony – 6-18 months prison, and/or maximum $5,000 fine
  • 3rd degree felony – 1-3 years prison (some F-3s can be 1-5 years), and/or maximum $10,000 fine
  • 2nd degree felony – 2-8 years prison, and/or maximum $15,000 fine
  • 1st degree felony – 3-11 years prison, and/or maximum $20,000 fine

After looking at those basic numbers, a sentencing court in Ohio is also required to consider “seriousness & recidivism factors.”  In other words, an Ohio sentencing judge will look at the specifics of a particular case and make adjustments to the numbers above based upon the specific case circumstances.

For example, a defendant’s sentence in a drug matter will be higher if he or she committed the drug offense while on bail, or if he or she has a history of criminal convictions.  A sentence will be higher if a drug offender is determined to be a “major drug offender.” 

By the same token, the sentencing judge will also take into account certain mitigation factors that may lower a sentence.  For example, if it was the offender’s first offense, or if the offender committed the drug offense under strong provocation, then those factors could result in a lighter sentence. 

Finally, Ohio judges must take into consideration in drug cases, as with all criminal cases, the Ohio sentencing guidelines administered by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.  Those guidelines assist the judge in the final sentencing decision, and both the defense and the prosecution can give input to the judge on what guideline factors should be considered. 

B. Federal Sentencing in Drug Cases 

With regard to drug trafficking in particular, the penalties for a conviction of federal drug trafficking vary depending upon the type of drug and the quantity of drugs involved in the case.  For example, a person would be facing a three- to 10-year sentence and fines of over $100,000 for marijuana trafficking.  Yet, that same person could be facing a possible 25-year prison sentence and fines up to $500,000 for heroin trafficking.  In addition, sentencing enhancements, such as distributing narcotics in a school zone, will add to the potential penalty. 

By way of some recent statistics, 95.7% of those convicted of a federal drug trafficking offense were sentenced to a term in prison.  The average sentence for drug trafficking offenders was around five years in prison.  Interestingly, almost half of all those convicted of federal drug trafficking had little or no prior criminal history.

It should also be noted that a drug trafficking conviction may have other collateral consequences.  Law enforcement has the ability to seize assets of those involved in drug offenses, which could include seizure and eventual forfeiture of assets like cars, bank accounts, or real estate.  Immigration consequences may also result from a federal drug trafficking conviction.

Similar to the Ohio sentencing guidelines, federal judges must also take into consideration the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which are promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission.

As with the Ohio guidelines, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines provide a uniform policy for sentencing defendants convicted in federal court.  The U.S. Guidelines help determine sentences based primarily on two factors: 

  1. The conduct associated with the offense, which is described as the “offense level,” and
  2. The defendant’s criminal history

The U.S. Guidelines essentially place those two factors on a table, and the intersection of each category will result in the appropriate sentencing range. 

For example, if a defendant is convicted of an offense that has an offense level of 22, and the defendant’s criminal history is in Category I (little or no criminal history), then the intersection of those two factors will show a recommended sentence of 41 to 51 months (or about 3.5 to 4.25 years) in prison.  Yet, if another defendant commits the same crime in the same manner but has a criminal history in Category VI (an extensive criminal history), then the U.S. guidelines recommend a sentence of 84 to 105 months (or about 7 to 8.75 years) in prison.

The U.S. Guidelines also allow the judge, after finding the recommended sentence based on the above two factors, to make adjustments to that recommended sentence.  Those adjustments are called “upward and downward departures.”  For example, if a defendant provides substantial assistance to the police then he or she may be eligible for a “downward departure” from the recommended sentence.  By contrast, if a weapon was used during the crime, then that could result in an “upward departure” from the recommended sentence.

Finally, it is important to remember that the U.S. Guidelines are not mandatory.  The judge does not necessarily need to abide by the Guidelines.  Yet, the Guidelines serve as a basis upon which both the defense and the prosecution argue for a particular sentence, and the sentencing guidelines are highly persuasive.

Are you or someone you know facing drug charges in Cincinnati, OH? 

If you are facing drug charges, you need to speak with an experienced drug crimes attorney as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Steven R. Adams is recognized by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America, National Trial Lawyers Top 100, and is one of U.S. News' Best Law Firms.  Please contact us online or call our Cincinnati office directly at 513-929-9333 to schedule your free consultation. 


Tad Brittingham
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Criminal defense attorney Tad Brittingham is dedicated to serving his clients throughout the Cincinnati area