There are both state and federal laws surrounding drugs. If you’re charged with a drug-related crime, how do you know whether your case will be tried in state or federal court? What’s the difference between these two systems?
Generally, a drug crime will be prosecuted at the federal level if some aspect of the crime involved a broader jurisdiction than just one state. For instance:
- Large amounts of drugs were moved from one state to another.
- The alleged crime took place in multiple states.
A drug crime will also be tried in federal court if it involves a federal entity. For example:
- The crime makes use of a federal system—such as the U.S. mail system.
- A federal agent—such as an FBI agent—arrests the defendant.
- The crime takes place on federal property—such as a national park.
In addition, more severe drug crimes—such as manufacturing or trafficking—have a greater likelihood of being tried at the federal level.
How is federal court different?
In general, drug crimes prosecuted at the federal level result in harsher penalties—and these penalties have become even harsher under the current administration.
For example, a first-time offender charged with possession of 5 grams of methamphetamine in federal court can now face a mandatory minimum penalty of five years—and as much as 40 years—in prison, since the recent repeal of the Holder Memo. If the defendant has a prior federal drug conviction, those penalties jump to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison. By contrast, the same offense in Illinois—a Class 2 felony—is punishable by three to seven years in prison.
In addition, if you’re charged with a drug crime at the federal level, this also puts you at risk of being charged with related federal crimes—such as Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations or tax evasion. Such supplementary charges can greatly increase your prison sentence.
If you’re facing drug charges in federal court, the stakes are especially high. It is paramount that you seek out an attorney with experience and expertise practicing at this level.