When Does A Drug Crime Become A Federal Offense?

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Generally speaking, a drug arrest will be made by local law enforcement officials. However, any of these arrests can end up getting federal drug charges. This is because drug crimes are always state crimes, as well as federal crimes. In 1999, 1.5 million people were arrested in this country for drug-related crimes. Eighty percent of these were relating to possession and the rest were mainly related to manufacturing and selling of drugs. So why did some of these become federal charges, whereas others didn’t?

How a Drug Charge Becomes Federal

One of the most sure fire ways of a standard drug crime to be charged at federal level is when a federal officer makes the arrest.

That could entail anything from being caught smoking marijuana at a national park to being picked up in a drug bust by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

However, in most cases, the charges become federal because law enforcement officials are working together with federal agencies. If someone informs on you, whether willingly or not, the charge will immediately become federal. Once someone is in the federal system, they will generally do all they can to get out of it, or to at least find methods to reduce their potential sentence. This is because federal penalties are much more severe than state penalties, and you can find yourself guilty of conspiracy charges or aiding and abetting, even if you had no drugs on your person. One instance in which  judges may tend to show leniency is if someone who is in front of the court identifies other people within the network of drugs. That person would then also be charged with federal drug charges. Unfortunately for those who do get charged in federal court, there is no way for them to appeal to the judges to have it sent to a state court instead.

The Penalties in Federal Court

Two things are known in federal courts. The first is that the penalties are far more severe than at the state level. The second is that most federal prisons do not have a real parole system. Technically, they do have a probation option, but the chances of getting it are virtually non-existent. This means that you do not only get the maximum possible sentence, you will actually have to serve the full term as well. And the prison terms in federal court are severe.

Federal penalties for possession of cocaine and heroin are more severe than those for marijuana and the penalties for the sale or distribution of these drugs may include a life sentence.

Drug crimes often carry minimum mandatory sentences. Although many people are questioning the validity of these sentences, they remain in place to date. This also means that a judge cannot lower the sentences, even if there are any mitigating circumstances. Furthermore, the probation opportunities, as stated, are extremely limited, particularly for drug-related crimes. The parole system has been completely removed.

How to Defend When Charged With a Federal Drug Crime

Clearly, if a drug crime is classed as a criminal offense, as it often will be, it is very important to have a good defense team on your side. In most cases, the only way for someone to walk away free is when their lawyer can demonstrate that the evidence submitted to court is either inadmissible or insufficient. Some of the items most defense lawyers will focus on include the results of the drug test, as well as whether the search and seizure procedure was performed according to the rules. Generally speaking, the only defense is an all-out attack on the law enforcement officials involved in the case, by citing constitutional rights.

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