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Federal drug crimes carry greater consequences than state charges

Drug crimes may fall under the jurisdiction of the state or federal courts, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. In some situations, both state and federal courts may prosecute the case at different times.

If you face drug charges, it is critical to understand what factors determine who will handle your case, as well as potential penalties you may face.

What is the Difference?

States usually focus on smaller drug crimes, such as minor drug possession or dealing. Charges involving crimes on a larger scale often fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Court and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

These include the following:

  • Manufacturing illegal substances
  • Delivery of an illegal drug
  • Drug trafficking and distribution, or selling, transporting and importing illegal substances
  • Transporting illegal substances across borders

Federal drug charges often come with more severe penalties than crimes handled on the state level. The consequences often vary depending on certain factors:

  • The type of drugs handled
  • The quantities involved
  • Prior criminal record
  • Firearms involved in the case
  • Serious or fatal injuries as a result of the act

Penalties vary depending on the severity and the extent of the crime. However, a federal drug crime may come with anywhere from one year to life in prison and fines of up to $5 million for individuals and up to $25 million for organizations, according to the United States Sentencing Commission.

Federal courts use sentencing guidelines when determining what penalties to impose on those convicted. For example, the average prison time imposed on drug traffickers in 2016 was 78 months and increased to 97 months in 2018.

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