Trafficking any quantity of drugs is a crime under both state and federal law. Whether the crime is charged as a state or federal offense depends on several factors. Generally, the more serious instances of drug trafficking are handled by the federal prosecutors of the United States Attorney’s Office, a branch of the Department of Justice.
Federal drug trafficking penalties are harsher than state penalties. Additionally, the conviction rate for federal crimes is significantly higher than for state offenses. There are competing theories as to why this is the case, but one thing is sure: if you are charged with trafficking by a federal prosecutor, you need an experienced federal drug trafficking lawyer by your side.
When Do Federal Prosecutors Handle Trafficking Cases?
Last month, a 40-year-old car salesman from Beaumont, Texas was charged with two federal crimes:
- Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine
- Conspiracy to launder/conceal the proceeds of his drug trafficking group
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Houston Police Department, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Michelle S. Englade is prosecuting the case against the defendant. If convicted, he will face 10 years to life in federal prison, in addition to possibly paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Based on what we know about this case, the federal prosecutor may be handling the situation because it involves:
Large Quantities of Drugs
The Beaumont man is facing charges for the distribution of over 500 grams of illegal drugs. This is right around the amount at which federal charges become more likely than state charges. Looking at drug trafficking laws in Texas, the most serious offense category is trafficking 400 grams or more of drugs. Most of the focus of these laws is on smaller amounts of drugs. This indicates that federal statutes are best equipped for dealing with large trafficking operations.
Other Crimes and Conspirators
Many traffickers are brought to justice for tax evasion and money laundering. The Beaumont case is no exception. Additionally, indictments have been issued against seven alleged co-conspirators, which shows that the defendant may not have been acting alone. When a case involves several complex crimes committed by a gang or other criminal organization, it is more likely that it will be prosecuted federally.
Involvement of Federal Investigators
It may sound obvious, but federal prosecutions tend to originate in investigations led by federal agencies. The Department of Justice has limited resources, so it carefully chooses which cases to investigate. When evidence of a crime is uncovered, the goal is then to dole out the harshest penalties possible by bringing federal charges against the suspects.
Other factors that may increase the chances of a federal prosecutor’s involvement include:
If you get arrested on federal land or by federal law enforcement officers, you face a high probability of being charged with a federal offense. Many federal law enforcement agencies operate around the country, but their activities are particularly focused around international borders and ports of entry.
It’s very common for federal investigators and prosecutors to obtain evidence from informants. These individuals are often facing criminal charges themselves. In exchange for leniency, the informant may reveal information on one or more collaborators. When an informant names you in the context of a federal investigation, it is likely that you will be investigated and charged at the federal level.
Crossing State or International Borders
If there is evidence that you took part in a scheme to move drugs across state or international borders, it is very likely that federal prosecutors will handle your case. On the other hand, drug trafficking that occurs within a single state or county has a higher chance of being handled by state prosecutors.
A Houston Federal Drug Trafficking Lawyer Can Help
As a former federal prosecutor, attorney Ned Barnett understands the charges against you and is ready to take prompt and decisive legal action on your behalf. The earliest stages of the criminal justice process are often the most crucial, so do not speak to federal investigators without calling a federal drug trafficking lawyer.