People are often so caught off-guard or so distraught in the immediate aftermath of an arrest on drug-related charges that they understandably fail to make a mental note of what law enforcement agency actually carried out the arrest.
Even though this may seem like a somewhat trivial matter, it’s actually extremely important, as it will provide immediate insight into the legal forum in which charges will likely be brought: the state courts or the federal courts. For instance, if the Illinois State Police make the arrest, chances are you will be tried in a state court, while if the DEA or FBI makes the arrest, chances are you will be tried in federal court.
While a complete discussion of the differences between the state and federal criminal court systems is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, it’s sufficient to note that the stakes are considerably higher for defendants in the latter.
Indeed, those convicted of a federal drug crime face everything from steep mandatory minimum sentences and exorbitant fines to limited probation options and even asset forfeiture.
Given this sobering reality, it’s worthwhile to spend some time discussing how exactly the federal government classifies drugs and, more significantly, punishes drug crimes.
Under the Controlled Substances Act — found at 21 U.S.C. section 801 — drugs are divided into five separate Schedules based on the following:
- The drug’s accepted medical use
- The drug’s potential for abuse
- The drug’s potential for addiction
Those drugs that have a high potential for both abuse and addiction, and no accepted medical use would fall into Schedule I, while those with a low potential for abuse and addiction and regular medical use would fall into Schedule V.
By way of illustration, consider that heroin is a Schedule I drug, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, ketamine is a Schedule III drug, Xanax is a Schedule IV drug, and Lyrica is a Schedule V drug.
We’ll continue this discussion in future posts, examining how exactly drug classification and quantity play a role in sentencing for federal drug crimes.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation by federal law enforcement agencies for possible drug-related activities — possession, manufacture, trafficking — it’s imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.