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When Does a Drug Charge Become a Federal Crime?


1/8/2020

Drug charges represent serious crimes at both the state and federal levels, but the difference between the two can be confusing. If you were caught in possession of drugs or are accused of trafficking drugs, the consequences can affect every aspect of your life.

If you have been accused of a federal drug crime, do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced Philadelphia drug defense lawyer. Attorney Lauren Wimmer can help you better understand your charges and build a defense to achieve the best outcome in your case. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

Applying State and Federal Laws

Controlled substances are governed by Pennsylvania state laws and federal laws. In general, state laws apply to charges within the state’s geographical area, and federal charges apply when the drug crime occurs across state lines or on federal lands such as Independence National Historical Park and other national parks. However, you could face both state and federal drug charges depending on the circumstances. Whether you face state or federal charges or both, you need a skilled Philadelphia drug defense lawyer to represent you.

When Does a Drug Charge Become a Federal Crime?

In addition to taking place across state lines or on federal lands, there are other situations that can escalate your charges to a federal crime. If any of these situations apply to you, you will want to discuss your case with a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Arrest by a Federal Officer

The most likely way is to be arrested by a federal officer. If your local law enforcement agency is working on a sting operation, there will likely be federal employees involved, increasing your chances of being charged at the federal level.

When Federal Agents Work with the State

It is common for state and federal law enforcement agencies to work together when it comes to drug arrests. Prosecutors for the state and at the federal level can elect to have you tried in a federal court. They might feel that your crime deserves a longer prison sentence that is usually handed down at the federal level compared to the state level.

When an Informant is Involved

Another way to be charged with a federal drug crime is if someone informed on you for leniency for their crime. If you are involved with someone who is charged at the federal level for involvement with drugs, they may be offered a deal with less severe penalties for informing them of others who are involved in their drug operations. In most cases, if the informant faced federal drug charges, you will too. Those who suspect someone may inform on them should contact a drug defense lawyer in Philadelphia as soon as possible to learn about their legal options.

Severity of the Offense

The more serious the offense, the more likely it is to get a federal charge. If you were caught in possession of a controlled substance, you could be charged by only the state. Whereas if you were caught in activities such as drug trafficking, manufacturing, or distributing, you would likely receive federal charges. When law enforcement agencies suspect that there is serious criminal activity that is making a substantial profit, federal charges should be anticipated.

Other possible reasons your drug charges could become federal charges include:

  • The state lacks enough resources to handle a complex crime
  • A federal prosecutor can request jurisdiction – possibly as a part of a crackdown movement in a specific area
  • State and federal officials sometimes agree to have the state surrender jurisdiction over to the federal government

How are State and Federal Charges Different?

The U.S. Attorney’s Office usually prosecutes federal crimes that are investigated by federal officers, such as FBI or DEA agents. County sheriffs, state agents, or local police officers investigate crimes at the state level, while state district attorneys or city attorneys handle the prosecution. No matter what court your case is tried in, investigators and prosecutors will have done their work to create a case against you. You need a drug defense attorney in Philadelphia working to develop a strong rebuttal to their case.

At the state level, first offenders with drug charges are usually less serious in the eyes of the prosecutor and will be given lighter penalties than if they were convicted on federal charges. When federal charges apply, there are mandatory minimum prison sentences that mandate prison time for the convicted individual. Plea deals are possible, and those convicted can appeal their case in federal court. Parole programs do not exist within the Bureau of Prisons or in federal criminal law.

There is an option under federal sentencing laws for probation, but they are infrequently used. If you are convicted of a federal drug crime, the prison time you serve could be severe as most judges adhere strictly to the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. Depending on your charges, you may be in prison for up to twice as long if you are convicted of a federal crime instead of a state crime.

Fortunately, in some cases, you may be eligible for supervised release after serving a portion of your sentence. If you are granted supervised release, you do not have serve your entire sentence in prison, provided that you comply with certain conditions, such as drug testing. Supervised release is a sentencing option available to federal judges, and the representation of an experienced Philadelphia drug defense attorney can increase the likelihood of obtaining supervised release.

Can You Be Charged for Both a Federal and State Crime?

Although the practice is discouraged by the Department of Justice, you could be charged for the same crime at both the state and federal levels. If you are acquitted of charges filed by the State of Pennsylvania, federal prosecutors could then charge you under federal laws. Although this may sound like double jeopardy, the state and the federal charges cover different jurisdictions, and it is not illegal.

Reach Out to an Experienced Drug Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia Today

Whether you are charged at the state or federal level, you need an experienced Philadelphia drug defense lawyer. One who is familiar with state and federal laws and one who is familiar with the courts and judges at each level. You also want a strong advocate who knows what is at stake and is willing to work hard to get your charged dropped or reduced. Look no further than attorney Lauren A. Wimmer. Her goal is to maintain your freedom by preventing a criminal conviction, even at the federal level.

Ready to schedule your legal consultation? Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212 or use our convenient online contact form.

 

Photo By: Shane McCoy / US Marshals