By: Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers
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How do Federal Drug Charges Compare to State Charges?
The unlawful possession, sale, distribution or manufacture of certain narcotics and other controlled substances is a violation of both California state and federal laws, and any time you are charged with a drug-related crime, you could end up facing state or federal charges. If you have been charged with a federal drug crime, you may be wondering what makes a drug-related offense a federal crime rather than a state crime and how state and federal drug offenses differ in terms of sentencing and defense strategy.
The federal statutes that govern drug crimes and set forth the recommended punishment for each crime can be confusing, especially if this is your first encounter with the federal criminal justice system. For more information about protecting yourself against federal drug charges, contact our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today. Drug crimes are punished harshly under federal law and it is crucial that you understand the charges against you as well as your options for defense.
What are the Differences Between State and Federal Drug Cases?
Drug crime cases can be challenging, especially if the crime involves both federal law and California state law. Sometimes drug cases start out in federal court and sometimes they end up there, often due to the severity or the jurisdiction of the alleged offense, because someone informed on the defendant, or simply because of decisions made between state and federal prosecutors.
Facing charges for a drug-related offense at the federal level is very a serious matter and it helps to have the knowledge and expertise of a trial-tested drug crimes defense attorney on your side when defending yourself against drug charges in federal court. Federal drug crimes are not the same as state crimes and it is important to understand the ways in which they are different. Below we discuss some of the factors that set federal drug cases apart from state cases.
Where the Case is Heard
A federal crime is an offense that violates federal law. The United States has a number of federal laws in place that deal with drug-related crimes like drug trafficking, drug manufacturing and drug importation/exportation. There are similar laws in California that prohibit drug crimes committed within the state of California.
If you are accused of violating any of these state laws, your case would be heard in state court and prosecuted by a state district attorney. On the other hand, if you are accused of violating a federal drug law, your case would be heard in federal court and prosecuted by an Assistant United States Attorney.
Where You Serve Your Sentence
If you are found guilty of a state crime, like possession of a controlled substance, you could end up serving a sentence in county jail or state prison, depending on the nature and severity of the alleged crime. If you are convicted of a federal crime, you would serve time in federal prison, which is a much more formidable sentence.
The Punishment Handed Down by the Court
The penalties ascribed to a federal drug crime tend to be significantly more severe than those associated with a state drug crime, even for the same or similar conduct. Federal drug crimes are often charged as felonies and even first-time offenders are commonly sentenced to at least one year in prison.
The maximum penalties for federal drug crimes are very long – up to 40 years for some offenses and up to life imprisonment for more serious offenses, with no parole, and some of these crimes also carry mandatory minimum penalties, which trigger automatic minimum prison terms for certain crimes.
The federal government is notoriously tough on drug crimes, and being charged with a federal drug offense can expose you to numerous other criminal charges the government may claim are connected to the alleged drug crime.
For instance, drug distribution or trafficking charges may be accompanied by allegations of tax evasion or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations, which can result in a longer prison sentence. Depending on the nature and severity of the drug crime you are accused of committing, you could also be ordered to pay fines running into the millions of dollars for a conviction in federal court. State drug crimes, on the other hand, can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies and generally carry a lighter sentence.
When is a Drug Offense a Federal Crime?
Most arrests for drug-related crimes are made by local law enforcement officers. If you are caught with a small amount of heroin or cocaine, a violation of California Health and Safety Code 11350, and you are arrested by local law enforcement, your case would most likely be heard in state court.
However, some drug offenses automatically trigger federal charges and others start out in state court and become federal cases due to any number of possible circumstances. The following are some factors that can play a role in whether your alleged drug offense is considered a state crime or a federal crime.
The Severity of the Alleged Crime
The Controlled Substances Act is the federal drug law under which certain drugs and controlled substances are regulated, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy. These controlled substances are divided into five separate categories, or schedules, based on their potential for abuse and/or dependence.
Although both federal and California state laws prohibit the unlawful possession, sale, manufacture or distribution of certain illicit drugs and controlled substances, it is rare for federal prosecutors to trouble themselves dealing with minor drug crimes like simple drug possession. In most cases, federal charges are reserved for major drug-related offenses like drug smuggling, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, drug importation or drug possession with the intent to distribute. Federal charges may also apply in drug cases that involve a large quantity of drugs or money, a large group of people, or a federal offense like money laundering or fraud.
One of the most important things to remember is that while marijuana has been legalized in the state of California, it is still illegal under federal law and that means you can face federal drug charges related to marijuana possession or distribution in certain cases.
Where the Alleged Crime Took Place and Who Made the Arrest
If you are arrested by local law enforcement on suspicion of committing a drug crime that takes place only within the state of California, you would likely face state drug charges.
However, there are a number of specific circumstances that can trigger federal charges, for instance, if the alleged crime takes place on federal property; if you are caught crossing state lines or international borders to buy, sell, deliver or obtain an illicit drug or controlled substance; or if you are arrested by a federal agent. As we mentioned above, even though marijuana has been legalized in the state of California, if you are caught with marijuana on federal property, such as a national park, you can be charged with a federal crime.
Whether Someone Informed on You
In some cases, a drug crime is heard in federal court because someone informed on the defendant in return for leniency in their own federal case. If someone informs on you and that informant was charged with a crime at the federal level, you could face federal charges as well.
Why You Need a Federal Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer
When facing criminal charges for a federal drug crime, it is vital that you understand that competent legal representation is not a once-size-fits-all approach. The federal government has its own drug laws and its own strategy to combat the use, manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs and controlled substances, and your best chance at obtaining a favorable outcome in your federal drug crimes case is to retain the services of a reputable defense attorney who specializes in federal drug charges.
Federal drug cases can be complex and the consequences of a drug crimes conviction can be devastating for you and your loved ones. Such cases are best handled by a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer with a history of success defending clients against drug charges in federal court.
Contact Our Federal Drug Crimes Defense Lawyers Today
Being arrested for any drug-related crime, state or federal, can be overwhelming and frightening. Depending on the type of crime, you could end up serving time in prison and paying substantial fines, among other life-changing penalties. And once you have served your sentence and you are released back into society, you still have to deal with the stigma of having a conviction on your criminal record. When faced with the lifelong consequences associated with federal drug charges, the most important thing you can do is hire experienced legal counsel to represent your case against the federal government.
The skilled criminal defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers have extensive experience defending clients against drug charges at the state and federal level and know what it takes to beat drug manufacturing, drug trafficking or drug distribution charges. If you have been charged with a federal drug crime in California, call our firm today to schedule a free initial consultation. We know how serious drug cases can be and we are here to help.