Arrested?

The number of anabolic steroid investigations and prosecutions has risen dramatically. Ten years ago, a large proportion of steroid criminal cases involved personal use posession. Many cases arose out of international mail Customs seizures. Today, federal law enforcement has effectively shifted its focus from users to dealers. Sweeping federal efforts like Operation Gear Grinder and Operation Raw Deal have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of a sizable chunk of the American steroid trafficking network.

Whether the investment of massive federal resources will ultimately translate into a reduction in the size of the U.S. steroid black market is an unknown. Successful interdiction on one front may only exert a temporary crunch on the market; with time, the black market may simply adapt and continue. Meanwhile, many of those arrested in steroid trafficking cases are gainfully employed, otherwise law-abiding citizens.

The startling truth is that many people being arrested today for anabolic steroids are quite similar in background to your friends and neighbors. They are sometimes former or current steroid users themselves who are also selling the hormones to others. In some cases, though, they are merely users of the drugs -- otherwise law-abiding mature adults who are using steroids for personal cosmetic improvement. I've been contacted, consulted or retained by literally hundreds of these individuals, many of whom are caught when their steroids are intercepted in the mail by U.S. Customs or Postal Inspectors. Overwhelmingly, they're neither teenagers nor competitive athletes -- the two populations the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 (later expanded in 2004) was intended to target. Nevertheless, American law enforcement authorities are pursuing these folks with enhanced vigor. I have seen a person arrested for selling just one vial of steroids to a former training partner turned police informer, and another for possessing just 15 stanozolol tablets and a near-empty bottle of testosterone. All too often, personal users are erroneously charged as dealers.

Following are some general principles in answer to a few of the most commonly asked questions concerning steroid arrests. For other general information, including, for example, the consequences of not being read your rights, please see the criminal defense web site of Collins, McDonald & Gann, PC (which has a section devoted to this general topic) at www.attorneydefense.com.

How am I most likely to get arrested for steroids?

Traditionally, the most likely way to get arrested for any drug charge, including steroids, was probably for selling them to someone who has his own legal problems and is secretly cooperating with law enforcement. You might get a call from an old gym acquaintance asking if you can get him a few vials of steroids. A meeting will be arranged, your old pal will bring along an undercover cop, and you'll be arrested on the spot or after a few further deals. Under federal law and the laws of many states, selling steroids, or possessing them with intent to sell, is a felony. An individual who sells steroids unlawfully, or possesses unlawfully with intent to sell, is punishable by up to five years in prison for a first offense (up to ten as of mid-April 2009) and up to seven years in prison under New York state law. Every state's laws are different.

Of course, whether an individual serves any prison time for selling steroids depends upon numerous factors including but not limited to the person's past criminal history, the strength of the prosecution's case, the person's role in the offense, and how effectively the case is either negotiated or litigated by defense counsel. An experienced criminal lawyer can make the difference.

What are my chances of being arrested just for personal use possession?

Small-time arrests for personal possession do occur. Sometimes these arrests arise out of car stops for traffic violations and the steroids are found during a search of the car. Car searches are frequent at border crossings, where law enforcement authorities searching for drugs are less restricted by Fourth Amendment constraints. I recently successfully defended two steroid cases in which my clients' cars were stopped and thoroughly searched at U.S. land borders (New York/Canada and Texas/Mexico).

However, the fastest-growing way of getting busted for personal steroid use is by ordering them over the Internet to receive them in the mail. I have been consulted or retained on hundreds of cases of this type. Those who order mail-order steroids run the risk that the delivery can be intercepted by U.S. Customs or postal authorities, precipitating an investigation and potentially an arrest. Many otherwise law-abiding mature adults have been arrested based on their receipt of anabolics through the mail. Many others were contacted by government agents who confiscated the steroid delivery but did not make an arrest. There is little uniformity in the way these cases are handled across the country, although overall mail volume seems to be a factor. U.S. Customs agents in metropolitan New York, for example, might handle a personal use amount very differently than Customs agents in rural Alabama.

While the vast majority of users (recently estimated as high as 6 million Americans!) probably don't get caught, you could be one of the unlucky few. Since the enactment of the federal Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990, expanded by Congress in 2004, steroids are in the same legal class -- Schedule III -- as barbiturates, LSD precursors, veterinary tranquilizers like ketamine and narcotic painkillers like Vicodin. Simple unlawful possession is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offense (most states have added anabolic steroids to their schedules of controlled substances). Even if a jail sentence is ultimately avoided, the consequences of an arrest alone include being handcuffed, fingerprinted, and hauled before a judge for arraignment in open court. There will likely be legal expenses and even forfeiture of seized assets. A criminal conviction may prevent or interfere with employment opportunities in many fields such as law enforcement, and members of certain professions involving licensing (physicians, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, teachers, nurses, cosmetologists, public accountants, architects, auctioneers, barbers, and licensed counselors, just to name a few) can expect a conviction to be reported to their state licensing authority, placing current employment in jeopardy. A drug conviction can suspend a person's driver's license (it's mandatory in some jurisdictions) and be a bar to the ability to own a firearm. Unquestionably, the assistance of experienced legal counsel is your best defense against these potential consequences.

Will the police try to get me to "cooperate" with them?

People who get arrested for controlled substances are often pressured to work with the agents who arrested them or with other law enforcement authorities to assist in the identification, investigation, arrest and prosecution of others involved in criminal activity. Known to law enforcement as "confidential informants" (but to their former friends and associates as "rats" and "snitches"), they cooperate in return for more lenient plea or sentence bargains. It is not uncommon for the police or federal agents to squeeze the many "small fish" they arrest into giving up their sources, leading to the arrests of bigger fish who, in turn, are squeezed to give up their sources. Whether the police seek to recruit a person as an informant depends upon a combination of many factors. Deciding whether it is something an arrested person should consider doing requires a risk-to-benefit analysis and extensive consultation with an experienced criminal lawyer.

Will I be charged in state or federal court?

In most states, both state and federal laws prohibit anabolic steroids, and a person can be prosecuted under either. In which court the case is brought often depends on the agency responsible for your arrest, and on the seriousness of the charges. Because of the way that steroid quantities are calculated under the federal sentencing guidelines, many cases with potential federal jurisdiction are dumped in state or local courts where sentencing may be much more severe. Even investigations begun by federal authorities like the Postal Inspector and U.S. Customs are most often brought in state court, not in federal court. This is particularly the case if the quantity is small and there is no indication of intent to distribute. In rare circumstances, you can be charged in both state and federal court with the same conduct.

What are my chances of going to jail?

A very important question, but one that is impossible to answer without knowing the specifics in a given case. Critical factors include, but are not limited to, the amounts of steroids involved and your prior criminal record. In our experience, few first-time offenders charged with mere possession for personal use are sentenced to jail in the New York state courts. Sellers are treated more harshly. In federal courts, the quantity involved is crucial under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In state courts, various other factors can apply. You should know the law and potential sentencing range that applies in your state.

We are committed to defending those prosecuted for anabolic steroids. We are admitted to practice in the New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Texas State courts, the District of Columbia, the Federal Courts of the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, the Western District of Texas, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services and the United States Supreme Court. We will promptly respond to questions from anyone being investigated for or charged with a crime related to anabolic steroids. Where appropriate, we will make referrals to qualified counsel in other jurisdictions. We are available 24 hours, 7 days a week for emergencies only by calling 516-294-0300. Other inquiries are answered weekdays between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST. Initial consultations may be scheduled in advance at our offices in Manhattan or Long Island. We handle all other criminal matters, including white-collar crime, fraud, narcotics cases, thefts, assaults, and serious traffic offenses (including suspended license charges). For just a few examples of the thousands of matters we have successfully defended, click here. Feel free to call us with any legal question; if we don't handle your type of case, we can try to connect you with an experienced attorney who does.

To learn more about our firm, visit our web site at www.cmgesq.com.