Drug charges are like many other criminal offenses in that they can be tried either by the state or by the federal government. If you’re wondering what prompts one of these governments to file charges, it boils to a few different factors. Two of the most notable ones are where the alleged crime occurred and the nature of the offense.
Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office generally try cases involving wider-scale drug operations, such as manufacturing or trafficking. State prosecutors generally tackle distribution, possession and drug paraphernalia cases. The lines can get blurred, however, depending on where the alleged crime occurred.
One of the best strategies for beating an opponent is knowing them and the common tactics they employ. You may benefit from learning more about how the federal and state court systems differ. That knowledge may be key in building your defense strategy in your case.
Do state and federal officials see drug crimes similarly?
Sometimes, state and federal laws are aligned, especially when it comes to “hard” drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine. They may differ greatly when it comes to lower-level drugs, like marijuana, although North Carolina still considers marijuana to be a wholly illegal substance. In general, each jurisdiction maintains its own “schedule” of drugs that it classifies as illicit. Those schedules don’t necessarily align but are based on how addictive each jurisdiction sees each controlled substance. The charges that defendants face vary depending, in part, on where the drug falls on this schedule.
Sentences imposed tend to vary depending on the jurisdiction as well. Some lesser drug offenses may be misdemeanors punishable by fines, a short jail term, participation in a treatment program or community service. Bigger federal drug cases may end up with the court imposing as much as $250,000 in fines and a period of incarceration of several years to life.
In general, the perception is that federal prosecutors are more aggressive than state prosecutors, and federal sentencing guidelines are tougher than state guidelines.
Don’t sit idle hoping or expecting that your drug charges will disappear. Instead, you should carefully review the evidence and look for an appropriate avenue of defense.