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What Kind of Drug Charges are Federal Crimes?

April 5, 2022

According to data cited by Drug Policy Facts, there were nearly 1.7 million drug-related arrests in the United States in 2020. Most of these arrests were made by state or local authorities—and the resulting charges were filed under state law. However, a drug offense could be a federal crime. The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) reports that approximately 25% of all people sentenced for federal crimes are charged with drug-related offenses.

This raises an important question: When is a drug crime a federal offense?

The short answer is that federal authorities may get involved in a drug case in a wide range of different circumstances, including when the offense occurs on federal property, when state lines are crossed, or when there are allegations of a complex criminal enterprise. Here, our Chicago federal criminal defense attorney provides a more detailed explanation of when drug charges become federal offenses in Illinois.

Background: An Overview of Federal Drug Charges

There are federal and state laws in place that prohibit the possession, manufacture, and distribution of illicit drugs. Virtually every drug crime that can be charged under Illinois state law can also be charged under United States federal law. A defendant could face federal charges for:

Drug Possession

Under 21 USC §844, simple drug possession is a criminal offense under federal law. A federal conviction for simple rug possession could carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Drug Trafficking

Federal authorities are focused largely on drug distribution. Under 21 USC §841, it is a felony federal offense to manufacture, transport, or distribute controlled substances. Federal drug trafficking penalties vary depending on the specific substance in question and the amount alleged distributed.

When Does the Federal Government Take Jurisdiction Over a Drug Case?

As noted previously, most drug charges filed in Illinois are handled in state court. Indeed, it is state courts that have “jurisdiction” over the large majority of drug-related offenses. As a general rule, the federal government will only file the charges if the offenses occurred on federal property or if the offense occurred between two states—meaning state boundaries were crossed in some form during the alleged criminal activity in question.

Five Circumstances When a Drug Offense May Be a Federal Crime

1. The Alleged Criminal Activity Occurs on Federal Property

The federal government has jurisdiction over federal property. If a drug crime—or any criminal offense occurs on the premises of a federal building or otherwise on federal law—it can be charged in federal court. As an example, imagine that a person was arrested for drug possession while at the Chicago Federal Building. He or she would likely be charged with a federal crime based solely on the fact that the offense occurred on federal property. If you or your loved one was charged with a drug crime for an offense on federal property, call our Chicago federal defense lawyer for immediate help.

2. State Lines Were Crossed During the Alleged Crime (Multi-State Distribution)

The federal government has legal jurisdiction over any criminal offense that involves the crossing of state lines. Indeed, this is the single most common basis on which federal drug charges are filed. If federal prosecutors allege that there was a multi-state narcotics distribution ring, they can bring federal charges. As an example, federal prosecutors could arrest and charge a person who allegedly purchased illegal drugs in Milwaukee to distribute them in Chicago. The crossing from Wisconsin to Illinois makes the matter a federal offense.

3. USPS or a Private Delivery Service Was Allegedly Use to Transport Drugs

Federal drug charges are also sometimes filed in cases involving the use of public or private delivery services. This means a person could potentially face a federal drug charge on the grounds of multi-state distribution, even if they never actually left Illinois. If a federal prosecutor proves that drugs were brought into Chicago from out-of-state using the United Postal Service (USPS), UPS, FedEx, or another delivery company, federal charges may be filed.

4. The Drug Crime is Related to Another Federal Offense (Firearms, Money Laundering, etc)

A federal drug charge may also be filed against a defendant who is involved in another type of federal criminal case. Most often, this occurs when there are other serious federal allegations, such as a firearms offense, a money laundering offense, or a complex cross-state violent crime. If you or a loved one is facing an array of federal criminal charges, including a drug-related offense, you must have an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney on your case.

5. The DEA Investigated an Alleged Multi-State Criminal Enterprise

Finally, the federal government may also file federal criminal charges against individuals who are believed to be involved with a multi-state criminal enterprise. In many cases, the enterprise in question is a criminal gang or criminal organization that is allegedly manufacturing, distributing or otherwise trafficking narcotics. These types of federal drug cases often involve law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

One of the things that make these federal drug cases especially complex is that there are often many defendants facing related federal criminal charges. The DEA and the FBI frequently bring an entire case at once. They may even try to keep some defendants to testify against other defendants. If you are involved in this type of criminal case, you must have your own Chicago federal criminal defense attorney.

Contact Our Chicago Federal Drug Charge Defense Lawyers Today

At The Law Offices of Vadim A. Glozman, our Illinois federal criminal defense attorneys have the professional skills and legal experience to handle the full range of drug crimes. If you or your family member was arrested on a federal drug charge, we can help.

Call the Chicago federal drug charge defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Vadim A. Glozman at (312) 726-9015 to schedule your strictly confidential consultation. With a law office in Chicago, we handle federal criminal defense charges throughout the region, including in Cook County, DuPage County, Will County, Kendall County, and Kane County.