FEDERAL DRUG CHARGES vs STATE DRUG CHARGES: What’s the difference?
What makes a federal drug charge vs a state drug charge? Federal drug charges are prosecuted in the United States District Court by the United States Attorney’s Office. State drug charges are prosecuted by a local district attorney, state attorney or county attorney (depending on the state) in state court. In Iowa, federal drug charges often result in more severe punishment than similar state charges. Avoiding federal court is preferable for a person charged with drug crimes in Iowa.
WHY DO SOME DRUG CHARGES “GO” FEDERAL
There are a multitude of reasons that a person might be prosecuted in federal court vs state court. They include but are not limited to:
- Whether federal or state agents ran the investigation
- The size of the drug distribution conspiracy
- The type and quantity of drugs involved
- Ties to larger drug organizations
- Role in the drug organization or the offense
- Cooperation with the police or lack thereof
- Other crimes committed by the individual or organization
- Involvement of weapons such as guns and other firearms
- Quality and quantity of evidence generated from the investigation
- Particular attitudes and policies of the United State’s Attorney’s Office
Charges often start in state court only to be dismissed when federal charges are filed. Iowa’s County Attorneys do not need a grand jury indictment to bring charges. Iowa’s federal prosecutor’s need a grand jury indictment to bring federal drug charges. The state may bring charges simply to give federal authorities time to procure an indictment from the grand jury.
FEDERAL DRUG SENTENCING vs STATE DRUG SENTENCING
In Iowa drug punishments are harshest in federal court. Almost every federal drug trafficking charge carries at least a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. The vast majority of federal drug trafficking charges have a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence. In addition to the minimum sentence, drug trafficking charges in federal court can have maximum sentences from 40 years to life in prison. A judge is free to sentence a person between the minimum and maximum for the charged offense. Judges are advised in federal court by the federal sentencing guidelines. Look for a future post about those guidelines.
In state court, depending on drug type and quantity each drug trafficking charge has a set sentence of 5 years for a “D” felony, 10 years for a “C” felony and 25 years for a “B” felony. Additionally, some charges have three year mandatory minimums and there are a number of potential enhancements which could double or triple the sentence.
The difference between a 10 year sentence in federal court and a 25 year sentence in state court is significant. In state court the sentence is indeterminate. This means that the maximum a person can do is 25 years. However, most persons receive good time off their sentence. Good time essentially cuts 45-50% off the sentence (so 25 is more like 13). Additionally, good time will reduce any mandatory minimum. The parole board can parole a person at almost anytime. In fact, for FY2014 the average time served on a “B” felony drug charge in Iowa was 36.3 months or just over 3 years.
In contrast federal prisoners earn only 54 days of good time credit per year. There is no parole in the federal system. A person sentenced to 10 years in federal prison will serve close to 8.5 years. On average, a person sentenced to 10 years in federal court will serve 3x as much time in prison as a person sentenced to 25 years in Iowa state court.
There are other differences between federal drug charges and state drug charges. Some involve particular application of constitutional protections. The differences discussed here are the major ones and tend to be most important. Whether you are charged in federal or state court, all drug charges are serious. You need a skilled lawyer who will not back down and not give in to the government. At Stowers & Sarcone, PLC we focus on drug charges. Each year we handle a multitude of state and federal drug cases. If you or someone you love has been charged with a drug crime call us today! (515) 224-7446.