When Does a Drug Crime Become a Federal Offense?
Local police make most drug arrests, but all drug offenses are considered both a state and a federal crime. Therefore, anyone arrested for a drug offense can wind up in the federal system. Federal penalties are usually much more severe than state penalties. Some federal crimes have a mandatory minimum sentence of five or ten years in federal prison, plus fines, and some can even include life in prison, plus fines. If you wind up charged with a federal crime, you need knowledgeable and skilled attorneys familiar with the system. The seasoned Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe and Stec will do everything possible to fight for you.
How Do Drug Crimes Become Federal Offenses?
While most drug arrests are made by local officers, if a federal officer makes the arrest, the charge will most often become a federal offense. If you are caught selling or manufacturing, or trafficking and distributing illegal drugs, you will likely be charged federally as well.
You can be charged federally if drug offenses occur on federal property, even for something small, like smoking marijuana at a national park. It’s a federal offense when the drug crime involves an undercover federal agent, or if you’re picked up in a drug bust by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The charge may become federal when local law enforcement works together with federal agencies or if the case involves multiple states or countries.
Sometimes, someone arrested by local law enforcement winds up in the federal system because of decisions made in private between state and federal prosecutors. Cases of drug trafficking or distribution, which often involve large amounts of drugs and interstate commerce and are more serious than possession, are usually prosecuted on the federal level. At times, areas of responsibility may overlap, and state and federal agencies work together to decide if the charge will be on a state or federal level, or even at the state level first and then the federal level at a later time.
What Are the Major Types of Federal Drug Charges?
Both federal and state drug laws make it a crime to possess, distribute and traffic illegal controlled substances. These include:
- Marijuana (although some states have decriminalized small amounts)
The most common federal drug charges include:
- Drug possession of the above controlled substances
- Drug trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs
- Drug manufacturing, which usually involves large amounts of drugs and distribution paraphernalia
- Drug conspiracy: if it is proven that you were aware of the conspiracy
- Protected location, which involves providing drugs to people under the age of 21 or in a school zone or using people under 18 to sell drugs.
What Are Punishments for Federal Drug Crimes?
The federal government has uniform sentencing guidelines to determine punishments for federal convictions.
Sentences vary, depending upon the exact nature of the offense, the drugs and amounts involved, whether you have previous criminal history, and the circumstances — for example, if the crime resulted in death or serious injury.
Federal drug laws have mandatory minimum and also maximum sentences. If you’re convicted of a federal drug crime, you’ll most likely face a minimum sentence imposed by law with little or no chance of probation. Typical mandatory minimum sentences can be from five to ten years.
Here are some sentences for federal drug trafficking convictions for Schedule I – V drugs, (except Marijuana)
1) For lesser amounts of drugs, including:
- Cocaine 500-4999 grams mixture,
- Heroin 100-999 grams mixture,
- Methamphetamine 5-49 grams pure or 50-499 grams mixture,
- Fentanyl 40-399 grams mixture
- PCP 10-99 grams pure or 100-999 grams mixture
First Offense: Not less than 5 yrs. and not more than 40 yrs. If death or serious bodily injury, not less than 20 yrs. or more than life. Fine of not more than $5 million if an individual, $25 million if not an individual.
Second Offense: Not less than 10 yrs. and not more than life. If death or serious bodily injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $8 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.
2) If the amounts of drugs are greater than these limits, the penalties increase as follows:
First Offense: Not less than 10 yrs. and not more than life. If death or serious bodily injury, not less than 20 yrs. or more than life. Fine of not more than $10 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.
Second Offense: Not less than 20 yrs, and not more than life. If death or serious bodily injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $20 million if an individual, $75 million if not an individual.
If you have 2 or More Prior Offenses: Life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $20 million if an individual, $75 million if not an individual.
Get Experienced Counsel
Be aware that most federal drug cases have a long period of investigation and evidence collection, so the conviction rate on these cases is very high. Consulting with a highly experienced federal criminal attorney you can trust is essential for a successful defense.
The criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense.