What’s the Difference Between Federal and State Drug Charges?
April 16th, 2020
Drug arrests in North Carolina can be based on either state or federal law. In some circumstances, an initial state charge may even change to a federal charge during the investigation. It’s important to understand the difference between federal and state charges if you face a drug charge in North Carolina.
When Does Illegal Drug Activity Constitute a Federal Offense?
There are no specific guidelines to determine whether an offense is charged as a federal of state offense, except that federal charges involve violation of specific federal laws and state offenses arise under state statutes. State drug charges frequently involve possession of illegal drugs, while federal charges often involve drug trafficking and distribution. Generally, a federal charge can result if the activity or events:
- Occurred on federal property
- Involved a substantial quantity of drugs
- Included activity that transpired across state boundary lines, including transportation by an interstate company like USPS, UPS, or FedEx
- Involved an investigation by a federal agency, like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)
- Related to an ongoing criminal enterprise or other specific federal offenses
Federal property in northeastern North Carolina includes popular tourist destinations like Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Possessing illegal substances in those areas can lead to federal criminal charges.
It is important to note that while some states have decriminalized marijuana, all cannabis activities continue to be illegal under North Carolina state law as well as under federal law. Possessing, using, distributing, or growing marijuana anywhere in North Carolina can lead to charges under state or federal law.
Process Differences Between Federal and State Drug Charges
Regardless of whether a charge involves illegal possession, trafficking, or manufacture of drugs, federal and state cases are processed through different systems. In most instances, the prosecutor in a state case is a lawyer in the local district attorney’s office. Federal cases are prosecuted by lawyers from the United States Attorney’s office.
A state case proceeds through the North Carolina state court system at the local level. Federal charges are tried in the federal court system, which is completely separate from the state system. State and federal courts operate under completely different sets of rules and procedures.
Federal prosecutors often have greater resources for proceeding against criminal defendants than do local state prosecutors. Those resources include the ability to draw on the vast network of federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA and FBI to investigate a case. Defending against a federal case requires knowledge of the practices of those agencies, in addition to an understanding of federal drug and related laws.
If you face a federal charge, it is essential to be represented by a lawyer with experience in federal criminal cases. Some criminal defense attorneys practice only in state court. Our attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm routinely assist clients with charges in both federal and state courts.
Penalties in Drug Cases
Federal and state law provide different penalties for convictions. Generally, fines and prison terms under federal law are harsher than those under state law for similar offenses. In both cases, some convictions require mandatory minimum prison terms.
For both federal and state charges, the severity of potential penalties depends on a number of factors. Penalties vary based on the type and amount of drug and whether there is evidence of trafficking, distribution, or intent to distribute. Charges involving trafficking and intent to distribute can result from possession of large amount a drug. If drug-related activities target minors, penalties can be enhanced.
A prison sentence for a federal conviction means serving time in a federal prison. Prison terms for state convictions are served in state facilities.
Legal Representation When Facing These Types Of Charges
One aspect of drug charges that is not different for federal and state offenses charges is the need for representation by an attorney experienced in drug cases. Defending against any drug charge is absolutely essential. Having a lawyer to represent you is also very important.
Potential fines and prison terms are not the only negative consequence of a drug conviction or guilty plea. If you have a drug conviction on your record — even a misdemeanor — that conviction can significantly affect your life in a number of ways beyond the potential fine and prison term. The conviction is a public record, available to anyone who conducts a background search.
A drug record can affect your employment and housing opportunities. It can even affect your eligibility for financial aid for education or housing. Because of the potential penalties and long-term implications of a drug conviction, you should never try to defend against any charge on your own. An experienced attorney has a number of strategies available for defending against any drug charge. The right approach in a specific case depends on the circumstances surrounding the charges.
Talk With an Experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer
At The Twiford Law Firm, our experienced criminal defense attorneys represent individuals in criminal matters in both state and federal courts in northeastern North Carolina, including all types of drug charges. Regardless of what type of criminal charge you face, we aggressively represent you and assert all available defenses.
With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Contact us today at 252-338-4151 or 252-435-2811 to schedule an initial consultation.
Categories: Criminal Defense