Generally speaking, federal crimes are more serious than state crimes. As a result, federal crimes are also subject to their own set of sentencing rules, known collectively as the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines. If a defendant is convicted of a federal drug crime, such as drug conspiracy, drug trafficking, or drug manufacturing, he or she will be sentenced under the federal guidelines.
As we’ve written about in previous articles, there are significant differences between state and federal crimes.
State crimes are charged when a defendant violates the criminal statutes specific to that state. For example, a defendant in Philadelphia could be charged with simple assault if he or she allegedly commits an offense matching the description in Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2701, Pennsylvania’s relevant criminal statute.
State crimes generally, but not always, carry lighter penalties than their federal counterparts. State crimes also tend to have different criminal statutes of limitations, or time limits applicable to prosecution.
If a crime violates both state and federal law, then both the state and federal government can prosecute the defendant accordingly. This is not considered double jeopardy, because state and federal governments are "separate sovereigns."
Federal crimes are charged when a defendant:
Needless to say, drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD (acid), psilocybin mushrooms, and ecstasy are all illegal in every state, as well as at the federal level. This means that - at least theoretically - every defendant charged with Pennsylvania drug crimes could potentially be charged again by federal prosecutors, even if no interstate trafficking or distribution occurs.
Speaking practically, it is simply not possible for the federal government to prosecute each and every one of the millions of narcotics crimes which occur annually, many of which are misdemeanors involving personal (simple) possession in small amounts.
Nonetheless, a large number of drug crimes are charged as federal crimes. In fact, the United States Sentencing Commission reports that, during the last decade, "Cases involving drugs, immigration, firearms, or fraud have been the most common federal crimes and comprise the vast majority of federal felonies and Class A misdemeanors. In fiscal year 2013, these crimes accounted for 82.3% of all cases reported to the Commission."
If a defendant is charged with a federal drug crime, he or she accordingly becomes subject to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (rather than the sentencing guidelines used by the state).
The following does not represent a full and exhaustive list of all federal drug sentences, nor is the information supplied below intended to constitute legal advice. If you’ve been arrested for drug crimes in Pennsylvania, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. You should also be advised that the sentences listed below are not guaranteed to be accurate, as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are subject to revision.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) provides the following federal drug trafficking sentences as of July, 2015:
The sentences applicable to marijuana trafficking are different. For example:
As you can see from these examples, the federal guidelines are incredibly harsh compared to their state-level counterparts. However, there’s also some good news for defendants: in some cases it is possible to reduce a federal sentence with a §5K1.1 or Rule 35 motion. Subject to special consent from the prosecutor, these motions can reduce a sentence down to probation - even, in some cases, if the conviction was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.
If you’ve been charged with drug possession in Philadelphia, or if one of your loved ones has been arrested for a narcotics offense, the aggressive defense attorneys of Krasner & Long can help. To set up a free and confidential legal consultation, call our law offices right away at (215) 882-9752.