Being charged with a drug crime is a serious matter. Those who commit these offenses are not only breaking state laws, but they are likely violating federal laws as well. This means an offender can be prosecuted at the federal level with sentencing that is more strict than state sentencing.
A person can be charged with both state and federal drug charges for the same crime, which may seem unfair at first, but ultimately makes sense. When multiple jurisdictions are involved in a crime, double jeopardy does not apply. The idea of “dual sovereignty” gives both states and the federal government the ability to prosecute an offender for the same crime. However, there are a few differences between federal and state drug charges, and it is important to understand them.
When Does a Drug Crime Become a Federal Offense?
Not all drug crimes will be of interest to federal prosecutors. Only certain types of drug charges will usually be prosecuted at the federal level. State drug crimes often consist of misdemeanor charges related to possession for a first offense or possession with intent to distribute, which is a felony, when the alleged criminal activity is confined within the state of Connecticut.
A person will typically be charged with federal drug crimes in major cases involving significant amounts of drugs or the use of a firearm. Federal charges will also apply in cases involving interstate commerce; notably, this not only includes cases in which criminal activity occurred across state lines, but also situations in which a person used their cell phone to conduct criminal activity, since mobile phone signals will often be relayed across multiple states. Ultimately, the decision of whether to prosecute an offense at the state or federal level is up to the arresting party, which may include both state and federal agents.
Differences Between State and Federal Laws
Though all drug crimes are technically federal crimes, not all drug crimes are prosecuted at the federal level. Most of the time, federal drug crimes involve drug trafficking or manufacturing, and they can be punished with harsher sentences.
For example, In the state of Connecticut, those who are convicted of selling, manufacturing or distributing fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, or other narcotics will face a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison for a first offense, although a judge may sentence an offender to less than five years if the person is deemed to be dependent on the substance for which they were arrested at the time of the arrest.
Federal drug charges for the same types of crimes can be rather severe. Judges are required to consider federal sentencing guidelines for drug charges, which provide recommendations based on the quantity of drugs involved and the person’s criminal history. However, when following these guidelines, a judge cannot sentence an offender to less than the statutory mandatory minimum sentence for the offense, with limited exceptions. Those convicted of trafficking heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or fentanyl will face a minimum five-year prison sentence and a maximum sentence of life in prison. If a person is charged with possession of a firearm in connection with a drug-related offense, the statutes require an additional sentence of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
It is also important to note that in Connecticut, drug offenses are only charged by Information after a finding of probable cause by a judge. Federal cases can be prosecuted by complaint, Information, or by indictment by a grand jury.
Are You Facing Drug Charges? A Hartford, CT Drug Crime Defense Attorney Can Help
Drug charges should never be taken lightly. Some drug crimes are serious enough that you could face decades in prison. If you have been arrested on drug charges — whether they are state or federal charges — you should immediately contact a Hartford drug crime defense lawyer. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we can help you form a strong, solid defense against these charges. Get in touch with our office today by calling 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation.