Both the federal and state governments have laws that make it a crime to manufacture, possess, or distribute illicit drugs. Generally speaking, you could be charged with most drug violations at either the state or federal level. However, facing federal drug charges can be a much different experience than if the state charges you. Let's discuss the main differences between federal and state drug charges and what you can expect if you face charges at either level.
Federal Drug Charges Carry Much Stiffer Penalties
If you're charged at the federal level with a certain type of drug crime, you will typically face a much more severe sentence if convicted than if you had been charged for the same crime at the state level. This is because federal sentencing guidelines tend to treat drug charges with more severity, and therefore many drug charges carry mandatory minimum sentences that the states don't have. For example, here in California, a first-time offender convicted of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine could face 2-4 years in state prison and up to $20,00 in fines. The same crime could get you up to 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines at the federal level.
Most Federal Drug Crimes Are Felony Offenses
The federal government is more interested in prosecuting more serious or substantial crimes, leaving minor offenses to the state governments to prosecute. Drug offenses are generally seen as serious crimes by federal prosecutors and courts, so if the federal government sees fit to charge you with a drug-related crime, chances are you'll be facing a felony charge which could deeply impact your criminal record if convicted. At the state level, many lesser drug charges are prosecuted as misdemeanors with lighter penalties.
When Is a Drug Offense Charged as a Federal Crime?
While you could theoretically be charged at either the federal or state level for most drug-related offenses, the federal government tends to defer to the state in most cases, especially for offenses like simple possession or distributing drugs in small quantities. However, the offense is more likely to result in federal charges in cases where large quantities of a drug or involved or the drugs cross state lines or national boundaries, as these activities suggest serious crimes like drug trafficking. For example, if you buy marijuana in a state where it's legal and take it across a state line into a state where it's illegal, you might be charged with a federal offense like drug trafficking even if you bought the drugs for your own use. Likewise, you may be charged with a federal crime if the alleged drug offense occurs on federal property (e.g., at a national monument).
If you're facing federal drug charges, your best chance to beat the charges or minimize the impact is to hire a defense attorney with experience in federal criminal cases. The attorneys at the Sigal Law Group are highly experienced in defending against both California and federal drug charges. Call us today at (818) 325-0570 for a free consultation.