The federal criminal justice system is significantly more complicated to navigate than the state court system and penalties for drug crimes can be much higher. For this reason, if you are facing federal drug charges, it is essential that your lawyer be experienced in the federal courts.

Drug Crimes at the Federal Level

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, also known as the Controlled Substances Act, classifies narcotics, marijuana and other drugs into five categories, or Schedules. Besides establishing requirements relating to manufacture and distribution of drugs, the law also defines penalties for violations of the Act. Depending on the nature and quantity of the substance involved, as well as the presence of sentence-enhancing factors, the criminal penalties can be severe. If you are facing federal drug charges, consult with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney for advice on the law, your rights and how to proceed.

Federal drug offenses differ from those at the state level, even though the conduct in question might be the same. The authority of Congress to define crimes comes from its Constitutionally-granted powers over the areas of commerce, taxation and the postal service.

Some of the drug crimes under the Controlled Substances Act include:

  • Drug trafficking: manufacturing, distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute illicit drugs
  • Manufacturing: operating places for the purposes of manufacturing, distributing, or using illicit drugs, or endangering human life while so doing
  • Continuing criminal enterprise crimes: trafficking in illicit drugs by a person in concert with 5 or more other persons
  • Conspiracy: involves attempts and the promoting and facilitating of manufacture, distribution, or importation of illicit drugs
  • Protected location offenses: distributing illicit drugs to persons under age 21, within a school or playground zone, and employing persons under age 18 in drug operations
  • Simple possession: possessing controlled substances without a valid prescription from a licensed medical practitioner. Unlike trafficking, simple possession does not involve intent to distribute the drugs.

Other drug offenses under the Act include investing illicit drug profits in businesses affecting interstate commerce and unauthorized importation of controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the federal controlled substances laws and regulations.

In addition, drug crimes at the federal level may include violations of tax law, such as tax evasion, money laundering charges, and charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Sentencing Under Federal Law

Federal drug laws specify minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment, based on the type and quantity of drug involved. Likewise, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, these factors are taken into account, along with:

  • Whether the offense involved injury to another person
  • Whether a weapon was possessed or used
  • The defendant's criminal history

While judges have discretion to depart from guidelines, they must still stay within the mandatory minimum and maximum terms specified by statute. Where the offense occurs in a school or other protected zone, penalties may be enhanced. However, the law is changing rapidly and it is essential that your lawyer preserve your rights and hold the government to its burden to prove each and every element to justify and mandatory minimums or sentencing enhancements.

Contact an Experienced Drug Crimes Defense Attorney

Drug crimes can be charged and prosecuted under federal law, state law or both. Because federal drug crimes can carry significantly harsher penalties, it is important to contact an experienced attorney. If you are facing either federal or state drug charges, contact Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Hope Lefeber, who can explain the intricacies of both systems and vigorously represent your interests.

View answers to Frequently Asked Questions about drug charges.