Differences Between State and Federal Drug Crimes

Portland, Maine Drug Charges Lawyer Richard Berne

A criminal drug charge is a serious matter that can result in a substantial fine, a significant prison sentence, and a permanent mark on your record. A drug charge may be brought in state court and/or federal court. However, the laws and the consequences of committing or being charged with a drug crime will is not the same in each jurisdiction.

Drug laws in Maine and the United States prohibit manufacturing, possessing, or dispensing a controlled substance, including the following:

  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin

Strict enforcement of drug policies is taking place at both the state and federal levels. However, there are differences between the state and federal systems. When a person is arrested for committing a drug crime, he or she may be charged with a state crime or a federal crime. Ordinarily, which jurisdiction will undertake prosecution of a drug crime will depend on the amount of unlawful drugs involved, the number of individuals involved and/or whether the case involves multi-state activity.  While more states are making the possession of certain drugs such as marijuana legal, such activity remains illegal under federal law and may be prosecuted by federal prosecutors if the conduct does not comply with such state statutes.

Understanding Controlled Substances

One of the key steps in understanding state drug crimes and federal drug crimes is to understand the statutory schemes in both jurisdictions. Simply stated, a controlled substance is an illegal drug that can have a detrimental impact on an individual’s health and welfare. Controlled substances or certain drugs or medications that require a prescription may be illegal under both state and federal law. Controlled substances are regulated and classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency.   They are classified in schedules that determine the severity of the crime as well as its punishment. These schedules consist of five different categories.

Drugs that are listed in Schedule I generally do not have an accepted medical use and many are highly addictive. Drugs that are listed in the other schedules may have an accepted use and may not be as addictive as the drugs listed in Schedule I.

Understanding Drug Distribution and Drug Trafficking

An individual or a group of people can be charged with furnishing unlawful drugs if any of the following occur:

  • An illegal sale of a controlled substance
  • Supplying a controlled substance
  • Delivering a controlled substance.
  • Drug distribution charge may be charged as drug trafficking if it involves a significant amount of controlled substances.

Understanding Drug Manufacturing

State laws and federal laws criminalize manufacturing or growing controlled substances including growing marijuana and/or chemically manufacturing such drugs as methamphetamine.

State vs. Federal Drug Charges

Generally, a federal criminal charge will be brought when there is a large amount of drugs involved or when there is a large scale drug trafficking conspiracy. A crime that does not involve a significant quantity of drugs or  does not involve numerous people will likely be prosecuted at the state level. In addition, other factors that determine in which jurisdiction the charges will be filed include the type of drug, the number of drugs involved, and the number of people involved.

State Courts

State courts have jurisdiction to charge any crime that occurs within that state.  As mentioned above, whether a state will assume jurisdiction of a drug case depends on many factors.

Although possessing marijuana is a federal crime, the states have the ability to legalize marijuana and many have done so. When someone abides by the laws of the state, he or she will ordinarily not be charged with a federal crime.

Federal Courts

As mentioned previously, state courts have jurisdiction over crimes committed within their territorial boundaries. Similarly,  federal courts have jurisdiction over crimes that were committed on federal property.  Anyone who uses a federal agency to aid in their criminal conduct may also be charged with a federal crime. An individual or a group may also be charged federally if drugs were trafficked across state lines.

Differences Between State and Federal Drug Crimes

The bulk of drug arrests at the state level are for possession of controlled substances. The majority of drug arrests at the federal level are for drug trafficking. Federal drug charges carry much more serious punishment including mandatory minimum sentences.

State prosecutors often charge misdemeanor level conduct while most drug charges at the federal level  are for felonies.  The local district attorneys office in each state prosecutes state drug charges while federal criminal charges are prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office.  The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the primary investigative office for federal criminal cases as opposed to local law enforcement departments which investigate state cases.

Due to the potential serious consequences of a federal drug prosecution, anyone charged with a federal drug crime should retain a lawyer who specializes in the defense of federal criminal cases.  As a former federal prosecutor, Attorney Richard S Berne is uniquely qualified to handle federal criminal matters including drug prosecutions.  The Law Office of Richard Berne has extensive experience representing clients at the state level as well.  Contact us today for a free consultation. Call us today at 207-871-7770 or e-mail us at berne@bernelawme.com to discuss your defense.