Federal Criminal Defense – Importation of Drugs – Pennsylvania Eastern and Middle Districts

The Controlled Substances Import/Export Act defines the federal government's law regarding the importation and exportation of controlled substances. These include illegal narcotics and prescription medications, as well as certain chemicals involved in manufacturing illegal drugs.

Controlled substances are those the government regulates as far as manufacturing, distributing, and possessing. Anyone caught or suspected of trying to bring controlled substances into the United States without proper authorization can face serious federal charges and harsh penalties that will greatly impact their future. These include doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, along with pharmaceutical salespeople and others in the industry.

If you were arrested or are under investigation for the illegal importation of drugs or controlled substances in Pennsylvania, you have every right to be concerned. However, you also need to understand your rights and options so you can effectively defend yourself, and you need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately for help.

Federal Importation/Exportation of Drugs Laws

The Controlled Substances Import/Export Act governs the importation of drugs at the federal level, and Subchapter II specifically prohibits importing or exporting any amount of unlicensed, unauthorized, or illegal substances for either commercial purposes or personal use.

The law also prohibits improper labeling and packaging of controlled substances, and you can face charges if you try to import controlled substances in commercial containers without the proper authorization, documentation, warnings, and seals. You can also face charges if you try to smuggle illegal or unprescribed drugs into legitimate prescription bottles you have for another medication.

The U.S. government classifies controlled substances and drugs into five categories, or schedules, based on their potential for abuse and their lack of accepted medical use. The schedules are:

  • Schedule I – Have a high rate of abuse and no accepted medical use. They include heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, and peyote
  • Schedule II – Have a high rate of abuse or dependence, but have some accepted medical use. They include cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall, Vicodin, and methadone
  • Schedule III – Have a slightly lower potential for abuse or dependence than Schedule I or II, with an accepted medical use. They include testosterone, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and Tylenol with codeine
  • Schedule IV – Have a lower rate of abuse or limited dependence and accepted medical use. Examples include Xanax, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol
  • Schedule V – Have the lowest rate of abuse or dependence and accepted medical use. They include Lyrica, Robitussin AC, and Lomotil

The law also includes other substances, such as cocoa leaves, poppy straw, and crude opium, as well as include flunitrazepam (roofies) and GHB (the “date rape drug”).

It is against the law to import drugs into the U.S. by means of transshipment, in-transit shipment, parcel deliveries, or any similar method. You can also face charges for having controlled substances in your possession unlawfully if you are aboard an aircraft or vessel entering the United States. Additionally, you can face charges if you manufacture Schedule I or II narcotics with the intent or knowledge they will be imported into the U.S.

Related Drug Crimes

Along with charges of illegal importation of drugs, you can face additional charges depending on the amount of drugs involved. For instance, you can face charges of drug trafficking or drug distribution if authorities seize large quantities of drugs from you.

Also, you can face serious RICO charges if authorities determine you were part of a drug ring, cartel, or some other organized criminal organization when you committed the offense or if you committed the offense to further some criminal enterprise. You can face charges for conspiracy as well.

Any additional charges will have their own penalties, which the court may impose along with the penalties you receive for the illegal importation of drugs.

Penalties for Federal Importation of Drugs

The penalties for federal importation of drugs depend on the types of drugs involved and their quantities. For example:

  • Unlawfully importing 100 or more grams of heroin, 500 or more grams of cocaine, or 100 or more kilograms of marijuana – You could receive a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, with a maximum of 40 years. You could also face fines up to $5,000,000, along with four to eight years of supervised release.
  • Unlawfully importing one or more kilograms of heroin, five or more kilograms of cocaine, or 1,000 or more kilograms of marijuana – You could receive a minimum 10-year prison sentence with a maximum sentence of life. You could also have to pay fines up to $10,000,000, with up to 10 years of supervised release.

Additionally, if you are caught importing certain chemicals for the purpose of manufacturing a controlled substance, you could receive charges that include maximum prison sentences of 10 to 20 years.


The government recognizes that parties may have legitimate reasons to import controlled substances into the U.S., and the U.S. Attorney General can offer exemptions for the following reasons:

  • You have controlled substances in your possession for your own medical use. But you will have to provide proper documentation and prove you obtain the substances legally.
  • The substances are Schedule III, IV, or V but do not have a depressant or stimulant effect on the central nervous system.
  • The substances are meant for a special scientific purpose, such as research. These are limited to non-narcotic Schedule I and II controlled substances.

You will have to provide documentation that you are importing the drugs legally, and you may have to seek approval from the Attorney General beforehand. As such, you should always consult an attorney who has extensive knowledge of federal drug laws to understand the requirements.

Defenses for Federal Importation of Drugs

To prosecute and convict you of unlawful importation of drugs, the government will have to prove you knowingly and intentionally imported controlled substances into the United States beyond a reasonable doubt.

After reviewing your case and the facts and evidence, your attorney may discover effective defense strategies that can include:

  • You didn't know the drugs were controlled substances.
  • You had a legitimate prescription.
  • Authorities seized the substances through illegal searches or seizures
  • Authorities made mistakes in handling evidence

Other defense strategies may lie in the fact the drugs did not cross U.S. borders, or someone forced you to commit the offense. In any case, you need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney on your side to help you develop the strongest defense possible.

Hire an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney

Our Criminal Law Team has defended many clients in Pennsylvania's Eastern and Middle District Courts on federal importation of drugs charges and other federal offenses. Call the LLF Law Firm at 888-555-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.