The National Hockey League realized last year that it has a growing problem with increased drug use by its players. The league met with the NHL Players Association to add cocaine and similar drugs to its banned substance list. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the media at the time:
“The number of [cocaine] positives are more than they were in previous years and they’re going up. I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis in any sense. What I’d say is drugs like cocaine are cyclical and you’ve hit a cycle where it’s an ‘in’ drug again. I’d be shocked if we’re talking about couple dozen guys. I don’t want to be naïve here – but if we’re talking about more than 20 guys I’d be shocked. Because we don’t test in a comprehensive way, I can’t say.”
Sounds like the Deputy Commissioner was being “naïve.” This was evidenced by the recent guilty plea to federal drug charges by former Pittsburgh Penguins player Keven Stevens.
Stevens, 51, played in the NHL from 1987-2002. He even helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent him from conspiring to sell oxycodone with another man in Massachusetts this past November.
Stevens’ lawyer told the media that during his time in the NHL, Stevens developed an addiction to painkillers, but that he had been clean and sober for a few months. The main reason for the guilty plea, said his attorney, was because he wanted to “move on with his life.”
His sentencing hearing is set for March 28, but pleading guilty could have another benefit for Stevens: plea bargains can result in drug defendants being sentenced on the lower end of federal sentencing guidelines. This is particularly important in Stevens’ case, because he faces up to 20 years in prison.
That’s an incredibly long potential sentence – especially when you consider the fact that Stevens wasn’t actually accused of selling oxycodone, just of conspiring to sell it.
Conspiracy to sell drugs is defined as a person or a group who has the intent to sell drugs and is making moves beyond just talking about it. People who are charged with this crime are often ratted out by partners who are physically caught dealing drugs. Sometimes, they are part of a larger group that police have caught preparing to sell drugs.
That is why, even though the defendants didn’t technically “commit the crime” of selling drugs, they face serious penalties. If also doesn’t help that the charges were brought to federal court.
The Difference between Federal and State Courts
When most people imagine federal drug cases, they think of the defendants being big kingpins in drug cartels involving millions of dollars moving across state or national borders.
Federal cases, however, aren’t always so dramatic. In the case of Kevin Stevens, he was dealing with a drug that is heavily regulated and monitored by federal law enforcement agencies. Even if his deal did not leave Massachusetts, it was unlikely his case was going to stick to Massachusetts state courts.
A crime can be brought to federal court if:
- A federal court determines the crime was committed across state or national lines
- The crime involves a federal agency (the U.S. Postal Service, the DEA, the IRS, and so on)
- The federal courts have interest in the crime because of its organization or
This is usually bad news for the defendants. When a case is bumped from state to federal court, it takes on a few major differences:
Federal organizations can submit evidence. Local police and investigators have limited resources to collect information on you. Federal agencies, however, like the FBI and others, have virtual unlimited resources to pursue their investigations. A small binder of evidence can easily turn into a figurative filing cabinet of information that can be used against you.
The defendant faces federal charges. State drug charges and penalties vary, but federal penalties are set. Moreover, they are generally harsher than their state counterpart, with federal charges often coming with mandatory minimum jail sentences. Additionally, many of these charges require you to serve at least 85% of your sentence without the possibility of parole.
Three strikes. After three federal drug convictions, you are sentenced to jail for life. This law continues to be challenged, but it has been upheld in many cases that involve repeat drug crimes.
Federal drug charges call for federal drug crimes lawyers who understand how the federal system differs from state court and have had success at the federal level. Don’t leave your future in the hands of someone who’s never handled federal charges before.