There is no such thing as a minor drug crimes charge. Even possession of a small amount of marijuana can trigger the full force of the Texas and federal criminal justice systems. Yet for the average person, it may not be obvious what the distinction is between a local drug charge in Collin County, Texas, and a federal crime.
Federal vs. State Drug Offenses
Controlled substances like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess under both Texas and federal law. Simple possession cases are usually prosecuted at the state level. Depending on the actual amount of narcotics in a suspect’s possession, he or she may be charged with the more significant offense of possession with intent to distribute.
As a general rule, federal penalties for drug crimes are harsher than similar state offenses. For example, a person caught with less than two ounces of marijuana faces a criminal penalty of up to 180 days in jail under Texas law, but a similar charge under federal law could lead to a prison sentence of one year. In Federal court, sentencing is ordinarily accomplished by following the discretionary United States Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines are not mandatory, though in most cases Federal courts do impose a “Guidelines” sentence. The U.S. Sentencing guidelines generally provide for penalties more severe than that of a similar state case.
Who Makes the Arrest?
Most drug arrests are made by local police. But local police frequently work with federal law enforcement agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If your arrest involves a federal agent, there is a good chance your case will be referred to a federal prosecutor. Similarly, if you are arrested on federal land—say a national park—even a simple possession charge may be handled at the federal level.
Drug Trafficking and Conspiracy in Collin County
Federal law enforcement is primarily concerned with identifying and stopping the movement of drugs across state and international borders. So if a drug offense involves crossing state lines that is likely to trigger a federal prosecution. Indeed, most federal drug prosecutions involve some form of “drug trafficking” or conspiracy. Along those lines, if someone facing federal drug trafficking charge names another person as an accomplice, that person will likely face federal prosecution as well.
Can You Get a Federal Charge Kicked Back to State Court?
It is up to Texas and federal prosecutors how to charge someone with a drug crime. In many cases, state prosecutors will refer a drug case to the U.S. Attorney’s office to take advantage of the stricter federal sentencing laws. Unfortunately, the accused has no remedy in such a situation. There is no way to “appeal” or challenge a local prosecutor’s decision to defer to federal authorities.
That does not mean, however, that your case is hopeless. Whether you face drug charges in state or federal court, a Collin County criminal defense attorney can help ensure the government respects your rights. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC, if you need to speak with a Collin County federal drug lawyer today.