As you probably know, drug laws in the state of Florida are not lenient. Serious penalties can be and routinely are imposed in our state on those who are convicted of illegal drug possession, sales, intent to distribute, and trafficking.

You also probably know that there are a number of federal drug laws, and sometimes these statutes overlap with state laws. When does a drug crime rise to the level of a federal crime? How can a Stuart drug crimes lawyer help?

IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A DRUG CRIME, WHAT IS YOUR TOP PRIORITY?

But first things first: If you are arrested for any violation of any state or federal drug law here in Florida, it is imperative for you to reach out – immediately – for the legal advice and representation that you are very much going to need.

Whether a drug crime will be charged at the state level or at the federal level will depend on a variety of factors including the type of drug and the quantity that the suspect possesses or attempts to sell.

According to Stuart criminal defense attorney Jordan R. Wagner, a drug charge can easily become a federal charge “in a number of ways.”

“It can because of the amount or how the transaction is conducted. Also, it’s a federal crime to possess drugs and a gun. So, if you LEGALLY own a gun and you only possess a small amount of marijuana (i.e., a joint), that is a federal crime and you can go to prison,” Wagner explains.

As a rule of thumb, the key difference between a federal drug charge and a state drug charge is that federal charges are usually filed for drug crimes like manufacturing, trafficking, and distributing drugs across state lines, while most state drug charges deal with possession and sale.

HOW ARE DRUG CASES HANDLED BY FEDERAL COURTS?

As you might imagine, federal criminal courts operate under their own rules, schedules, procedures, and guidelines.

If you are convicted by a federal court of distributing or trafficking drugs, the penalties may include fines, probation, and prison:

1. Probation: A probation sentence for a federal drug conviction will run from one to three years.

2. Fines: Fines for federal drug trafficking convictions vary, but in the most egregious cases, the fine can be $1 million or more.

3. Prison: Unlike the state of Florida’s criminal justice system, the federal courts and sentencing guidelines offer no leniency provisions or diversion programs for first-time offenders.

WHAT DO FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES REQUIRE?

Federal prison sentences for drug crimes can range from one to ten years – and even longer if large amounts of drugs and cash are involved or if firearms are involved. Life sentences may be ordered for repeat offenders caught selling or trafficking large amounts of drugs.

Some federal drug convictions trigger mandatory minimum sentences. A conviction for the possession of 500 or more grams of powdered cocaine, for example, triggers a mandatory five-year federal prison sentence.

If you are sentenced to three-to-ten years for a conviction that requires a minimum three-year prison term, you must serve at least three years – even if there are mitigating factors that in other cases would mean reduced sentencing.

There is no federal parole, and federal drug cases that result in a straight probation sentence – with no time served – are quite rare.

CAN YOU FACE STATE AND FEDERAL DRUG CHARGES AT THE SAME TIME?

Yes, you can face state and federal drug charges at the same time. A large quantity of drugs or a large amount of cash makes federal charges more likely. If you are simultaneously facing both state and federal drug charges, your legal situation will very quickly get quite complicated.

Here in Florida, whether you are charged with a drug crime in the federal courts, the state courts, or in both courts at once – and whether the charge is simple possession or major drug trafficking – you must be advised and represented by an experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyer.

WHEN YOU SELECT A DEFENSE LAWYER, WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?

If you are charged with any drug crime in the state of Florida, it is imperative to choose a lawyer who:

1. has abundant criminal defense experience
2. knows that good people sometimes end up in bad circumstances
3. has the legal skill to find the flaws in the prosecution’s case against you
4. will fight aggressively for the justice you need and deserve

Federal prosecutors spare no expense to win convictions. The resources of the FBI, DEA, and ATF are available to them. Federal law enforcement authorities routinely seize assets from individuals and businesses that are under investigation in connection with federal drug crimes.

HOW WILL A LAWYER DEFEND YOU AGAINST A FEDERAL DRUG CHARGE?

Especially if you are charged with a drug crime in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, you simply cannot afford to delay taking action. It’s critical to have a skilled federal court attorney working on your behalf as quickly as possible.

A variety of effective defenses and defense strategies may be offered in a federal drug case:

1. If your rights were violated by law enforcement officers during an investigation, interrogation, search, or arrest, your defense lawyer will probably file a pre-trial motion seeking to suppress any illegally-gathered evidence.

2. Your attorney may recommend – and then attempt to negotiate – a favorable plea arrangement that can reduce the harsh penalties typically associated with a federal drug conviction.

3. If your defense lawyer believes the prosecution’s evidence is not sufficient to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, your lawyer may recommend taking your case to trial and asking a jury to return a not guilty verdict.

Federal drug crime investigations can be lengthy. Federal prosecutors often delay filing charges until they have established a strong and persuasive case against a suspect.

Thus, if you are charged with a drug crime at the federal level, the evidence against you may be difficult to refute, and a plea agreement will, in some cases, be the best possible resolution of the case.

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A DRUG CRIME?

In other cases, your attorney will fight aggressively for a dismissal of the charge against you or an acquittal at trial.

If you are charged with any drug crime – at either the federal or state level – it is imperative to remember your rights. You have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to have an attorney present during any questioning.

If you are charged with a violation of federal drug laws in Stuart, it will be imperative to exercise those rights and to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately.

Don’t take any chances when you are dealing with a federal criminal court. Get the legal help that you need as soon as you need it. Your future – and your freedom – may depend on it.