blog home Drug Possession The Difference Between Federal and State Drug Crimes

The Difference Between Federal and State Drug Crimes

By San Diego Attorney on July 6, 2018

When a person is arrested for committing a crime, he may be charged with either a state crime or a federal crime. Who has jurisdiction over what crime has been called into question in recent years. More and more states are making certain drugs, such as recreational marijuana, legal, but it remains a federal crime.

So how can anyone in California have cannabis in his possession and not be charged with a federal crime? It mostly depends on whether or not a crime was committed on state land or federal land. Here are the basics.

State Courts

State courts have broad jurisdiction because most crimes are crimes against the state. Every state enacts its own laws, and when those laws are broken, violators will often be tried in state court. State courts, established by the state legislature, have jurisdiction for any crime, or non-crime, that happens on state property or that break the laws against the state. Most crimes will be heard by a judge that has been elected within that state. Crimes such as robbery, drunk driving, and murder will likely be heard by a state court.

When the crime involves illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine, it will also be tried in state court in most cases. In instances that involve drugs that are legal in certain states, there will be no charge for simple possession in states such as California, because it is not illegal. When a crime related to a legal drug has been committed, such as selling marijuana without a proper license, these cases will also be heard in a state court most of the time.

Even though possessing marijuana is still a federal crime, the states have the right to enact and pass their own laws. When a person in that state is abiding by state laws, he or she will not be charged with a federal crime simply because the act is a federal crime.

Federal Courts

Just as state courts have jurisdiction over state territory, federal courts have jurisdiction over federal land. This also includes any crime that involves a federal agency, violations against the U.S. Constitution, and cases that include two or more different states.

For example, if a crime ring in California sold large quantities of drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) may be called in to investigate and charge those involved with selling the drugs. In this case, those charged would be prosecuted in federal court because it involved a federal agency. In addition to this, anyone using a federal agency to commit a crime, such as sending narcotics through the U.S. Postal Service, may also be charged with a federal crime.

Because federal crimes also include crimes that occurred between two or more states, someone charged with trafficking drugs from one state to another may also be charged with a federal crime.

Committing a federal crime on federal land will also be prosecuted in a federal court. So even though possessing small amounts of marijuana is legal in California, if people are caught with it on federal land such as Yosemite National Park, they may be charged with a federal crime. The case will be heard in a federal court with a federal judge presiding.

How Are Federal and State Crimes Prosecuted?

While the government will be the prosecuting body in both cases, state district attorneys prosecute state crimes while Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) prosecute federal cases.

In federal court, the agency involved in charging the person or people with a crime will provide testimony. For example, if the DEA or the FBI was involved, these authorities will appear in federal court to give their testimony. Because this type of testimony can be particularly damaging, those charged with a federal crime must speak to a federal crimes attorney who can provide the proper defense. In state court, it is usually local law enforcement that will provide testimony.

After being charged with a crime and convicted, the sentencing one faces will differ. Sentences handed down in federal court are typically lengthier than state sentences, even when the crime the defendant is accused of is similar to a state crime.

Getting Proper Representation

While sentences for federal crimes are harsher than for state crimes, anyone accused of committing a crime needs to speak to a tough San Diego defense attorney. We at JD Law want to build a strong defense to give you the best possible chance for a successful outcome. Call us today at (760) 630-2000 to schedule a free consultation.

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Posted in: Drug Possession

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