Getting charged with an offense of any kind can be confusing and overwhelming. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 1.8 million people were arrested in the U.S. in 2007 for drug crimes, with some of these going to federal court and some staying at the local level. With so many different laws concerning controlled substances, how does a drug crime become a federal offense?
Laws that govern controlled substances exist both in the state level and the federal level. State laws refer to cases that are within the state’s limited geographical area, while federal charges apply to activities that cross state lines or occur on federal lands.
In some instances, the accused could be in violation of both state and federal laws. Since there are laws in both jurisdictions, anyone arrested for any drug offense has the possibility of being charged with a federal crime.
The Jurisdiction of the Offense: The most common way to be charged under the federal laws is to be arrested by a federal officer. Local law enforcement may be working together with federal employees in a sting operation, or you may be arrested for having or using drugs on federal lands such as a national park. If the federal system is involved in any way, federal charges will result.
Someone Informed on You for Leniency: Judges or prosecutors will often show leniency when the accused is willing to inform on other people within the network. If someone informs on you and that informant was charged at the federal level, the charges against you will likely be federal charges.
Decisions between State and Federal Employees: State and federal law enforcement branches are often intertwined for drug arrests. In some instances, the state and federal prosecutors will decide that the charges should be brought to federal court. This can happen because there the prison sentences are usually longer if the case is handled by federal authorities.
The Seriousness of the Offense: Federal charges will usually result when the offense is deemed more severe. Simple possession may be kept at the state level while offenses such as drug trafficking, manufacturing, or intent to distribute are more likely to be charged at a federal level. Any criminal acts that indicate that the participants may be conducting a serious criminal enterprise and making significant profit will face federal charges.
State offenses for first offenders are generally determined to be less serious and carry much lighter penalties than federal drug crime charges. Because there are a variety of federal mandates that impose mandatory minimum prison sentences, someone convicted of a federal drug crime will typically serve significant prison time. The federal mandatory minimum laws recognize state convictions for serious drug offenses and violent crimes.
Additionally, federal courts allow appeals but under much more limited circumstances if an accused signs a plea agreement. Federal criminal laws and the Bureau of Prisons do not have a parole program. While federal sentencing laws have a probation option, participation is practically non-existent. Due to these factors, federal drug crime charges are generally punished with lengthy prison sentences and are more severe than state charges.
Federal drug charges can also open you up to numerous other charges that may not seem directly related, depending on what you were found guilty of. Trafficking or distribution charges can result in tax evasion charges or a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) violation that can result in additional jail time.
Drug crimes at the federal level can be very serious and will affect your life for years to come. If you have been charged with a federal drug charge, you will need to obtain the best defense team possible to plead your side.
If you are facing federal charges for a drug crime, we can help. Contact Tim Bower Rodriguez for a full case evaluation.