What Drug Possession Amounts Trigger Federal Charges Versus State Charges?

Learn the Factors Associated with Federal and/or State Drug Possession Charges

Thirty years ago, only about 16 percent of the federal prison population were there for drug-related convictions. Today, that number has grown to a whopping 60 percent. From 1986 to 2014, the federal prison population has increased from 40,000 to over 150,000—although there are many more people in state prisons on drug charges, by comparison, they make up only about 20 percent of the state prison population. So, sixty percent of federal prisoners are there on drug charges while 20-25 percent of state prisoners are there on drug charges. The disparity in numbers is largely due to the much harsher prison sentences for those charged under federal laws.

Will You Be Prosecuted Under Federal or State Drug Charges?

If you have been charged with a drug possession offense in the state of Texas, it is likely you are confused and overwhelmed. More than 1.8 million people were arrested in 2007 for drug crimes—some of these cases remained at the local law enforcement level, while others were prosecuted at the federal level. Since as many as three-quarters of all drug charges are for possession, the difference between federal and state drug laws can make a significant difference in your charges.  

Generally speaking, state drug laws govern cases within the state’s geographical area, while federal drug charges apply to activities which occur on federal land (like a national park) or cross a state line. You could also be charged under federal drug laws if you are arrested by a federal law enforcement officer, which could occur when local law enforcement and federal law enforcement work together in a sting operation. State and federal prosecutors may choose to bring your charges to federal court, particularly if they would like to see you receive a longer sentence—federal penalties for drug crimes are almost always harsher than state penalties.

Perhaps even more confusing, is that if another person who is charged with a drug crime at the federal level “snitches” on you in return for leniency for his or her own crime, you will also likely be charged at a federal level.  Typically, charges for simple possession will remain on the state level, while drug trafficking, manufacturing, or intent to distribute may be charged at the federal level. Obviously, the amount of the drug in your possession—any quantity which appears in excess of personal use quantity could trigger federal charges—as well as factors listed above, will have some bearing on whether you will be charged at the state or federal level.

Federal Drug Penalties

If your drug possession crime is prosecuted under federal law, you will face a point system which determines the range of your sentence. This point system is based on your prior criminal history, your background, and the facts of your case.  If you have been charged with a federal drug crime, it is important that you understand that federal drug penalties are much more severe, and that federal drug charges can potentially open you up to numerous other charges (RICO violations, tax evasion charges, etc.). While federal courts do allow appeals, they are allowed under much more limited circumstances, particularly if you sign a plea agreement. If you are convicted or enter into a plea agreement, time is served day for day, and there is no early release. There is no parole program under federal criminal laws, and while federal sentencing laws do have an option for probation, participation in probation for drug offenses is practically non-existent.

Don’t Wait—Get Experienced Help from a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with drug possession under federal law, it is imperative that you contact a Harris County criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in federal drug charges. Having a Houston federal criminal defense attorney by your side can significantly affect the outcome of your charges.

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Author: Andrew Sullo
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Andrew Sullo

Andrew SulloAndrew Sullo

Andrew Sullo is a National Trial Lawyer's Top 100 Selection for 2013-2018. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice.

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