A Federal Case May Mean Increased Penalties in Drug Prosecutions

There's an old saying: "Well you don't have to make a federal case out of it!" Generally speaking, the phrase means you don't have to make a big deal about something. And as the saying implies, in criminal cases involving drugs, a case in federal court generally means a more severe punishment is possible than a case in a state court.

Most criminal matters that occur in North Carolina, from burglary to murder to sexual assault, are handled by local police and prosecuted in state courts by district attorneys. Other offenses which violate federal laws are tried in federal court, where the prosecutors are called U.S. attorneys. Examples of cases that can be tried in federal court include securities fraud, tax fraud, counterfeiting, child pornography, and even damage to mailboxes.

Some crimes are prosecuted in federal court simply based on where they occur. For example, the vast majority of drug possession cases nationwide are handled in state courts. But if the arrest occurred on federal property (such as a national park), it would be handled in federal court, even if the case was relatively minor. In other cases, the circumstances of the crime may allow federal authorities to take over the case from state officials. One example would be when an investigation reveals criminal activity across state lines.

As mentioned above, federal crimes are often punished more severely than comparable state crimes, and one reason is mandatory minimum laws, which call for harsh sentences, particularly when guns are used as part of drug crimes. For example, the federal mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in cocaine (in amounts over 500 grams) is 5 years in prison. If a firearm was involved, it adds a mandatory 5 years. If the gun is discharged (fired), 10 years is added. If the gun in question has a silencer, 30 years is added.

As you can see, these federal mandatory minimum laws quickly ratchet up the sentence that the judge must impose if the defendant is found guilty. Thus it is extremely important for anyone accused of a drug-related crime-or even someone who is merely under investigation-to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure their legal rights are vigorously defended.

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