In America’s war on drugs, individuals who are suffering from addiction find themselves tangled in the legal web of the federal court system with minimal ability to defend themselves against federal drug crime allegations. Being charged with federal-level drug crimes may bring stiffer penalties that could mean substantial federal prison time.
Differences Between State and Federal Drug Crime Charges
State and federal law have specific laws and procedures that govern controlled substances. Drug crimes charged on a state level may carry stiff penalties, but not nearly as severe as those associated with federally prosecuted offenses. Federal charges may apply to conduct that transpired across state lines, involve crimes that occurred on federal property, or may involve the trafficking of large amounts of illicit drugs. State and federal crimes may also overlap in jurisdiction, which means if you are under arrest for a drug crime, you may face charges on either the state or the federal level.
There are numerous ways to distinguish federal drug crimes from state drug crimes, including but not limited to:
Parole is not available in the federal justice system.
Federal probation and home confinement are difficult to obtain.
Prison sentences may be significantly longer for federal drug crimes.
Federal law may require mandatory minimum prison sentences, depending on the alleged crime. If you have previously been convicted of other serious violent crimes or drug offenses, you may be exposed to aggravated penalties.
In the United States, there is a federal drug policy called The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which regulates how controlled substances get manufactured and distributed. This legislation categorizes drugs into five different classifications, depending upon the potential for abuse and the perceived beneficial use cases, if any.
Several determining factors place a drug into its assigned schedule, including:
Potential for abuse
International treaty status
To better understand how the hierarchy of the drug scheduling works, consider the examples of each below, noting how the potential for abuse and dangerousness of the drugs range from most to least severe.
Schedule I: LSD, marijuana, heroin
Schedule II: Fentanyl, morphine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, cocaine, Adderall
Schedule III: Vicodin, anabolic steroids, ketamine, products having less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dose
Schedule IV: Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Tramadol
Schedule V: cough medications with less than 200 milligrams of codeine per mL, Motofen, Lyrica, Lomotil
Drug crimes result in federal-level charges most often when you already have an established criminal history or the offense was severe. Crimes involving small amounts of drugs, like a simple possession case, may remain at the state level. If you were trafficking large quantities of controlled substances, had intent to distribute illicit drugs, or were manufacturing narcotics, you may be faced with federal charges.
Below are situations where you may have federal level drug charges brought against you:
Cooperation between both state and federal law enforcement agencies is a common practice involving drug crimes. This practice frequently occurs between prosecutors on both levels of government. Due to the potentially more severe penalties under federal criminal law, state attorneys may defer to federal prosecutors, or the latter may opt to file their own case against you in federal court.
Drug charges may be federally prosecuted if a federal official arrests you for the offense. This situation often occurs during sting operations where local or state enforcement agencies cooperate with federal officials. If the location of the alleged crime took place on federal property, or if federal law enforcement has any involvement whatsoever in your drug charges, you may face federal prosecution.
There are cases where federal prosecutors will work with an informant to testify against a defendant in exchange for leniency in their own case. This collaboration is a common tactic when authorities are attempting to work up the chain of command in drug rings.
Defending against federal drug charges is a complex undertaking that requires a multi-tiered strategy. From challenging any instances of unlawful searches and seizures to investigating whether federal law enforcement purposely tampered with evidence, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is a must to successfully defend your case.
As a former prosecutor, Attorney William M. Aron understands how and why a federal prosecutor might be motivated to prosecute your case. Contact our office today at (805) 500-7536 or online to schedule a confidential case evaluation. We are here to help.