I've been defending people charged with federal drug crimes now for the past 26 years in Los Angeles and throughout the country. Specifically, regarding Los Angeles and the Central District where a lot of drug crimes are prosecuted, they have their own way of doing things and when I say they, I mean the prosecutors and judges.
A lot of the cases that I deal with, because of the amount of narcotics and because the individual is usually charged under a trafficking umbrella, meaning they're somehow involved in moving narcotics to be sold.
Either they're the mule moving a lot of drugs and being paid a small amount of money, as compared to the large amount of money that's going to be made on the drugs, or maybe they're the supplier of the drugs or maybe the person receiving the drugs, or maybe they're the person that it's really unclear what their role is in the conspiracy to move drugs.
Drug charges may become federal at any time because drug offenses are both state and federal in nature. It is important to have some contextual knowledge about criminal prosecution and jurisdiction in the United States in order to understand how drug charges become federal.
The federal government and state government both have the authority to prosecute criminals. Sometimes only federal or state has the authority, and sometimes they both have authority (i.e. jurisdiction). Contact our California federal criminal defense attorneys to review your case.
The 5 most significant ways that a drug charge can become federal are:
- A federal informant named you
- A federal officer made your arrest
- The crime occurred on federal property
- The crime involved crossing state lines or out of the country
- The catch-all category.
In addition to the aforementioned ways, it is also important to remember that it is possible to be prosecuted by both the federal and state governments on separate occasions, without a double jeopardy violation. There is a major difference in length of sentencing between state and federal penalties. Federal punishments are almost always harsher than state punishments.
Federal Law Enforcement Agencies
In a lot of these drug cases in Los Angeles, the federal agents — FBI, DEA — they're using wire-tap evidence to catch people. In other words, they either get information from informants and then they get a wire-tap warrant and start listening to those people who they think are involved in drugs.
Or maybe they just do their own investigation without using an informant — target certain people who they believe are involved in drugs, and then they start to monitor those people through surveillance — they'll follow them around and videotape them. They'll watch them and take pictures of them.
Sometimes they'll get a warrant so they can put a GPS tracking monitor on their car so it's easier to follow them around to see where they're going and what they're doing.
Then of course, they'll listen to the wire-taps and then as the wire-taps go along and they follow people based on what's indicated on the wire-tap, a lot of times they will seize drugs as part of their investigation.
They hear that there's going to be drugs used. They're able to figure out where those drugs are going. They grab the drugs. Sometimes they arrest the person; sometimes they let the person go who has the drugs.
The problem with arresting the person who has the drugs is if they actually file a case against them, that person's attorney is obviously going to want all the information related to the case. This will include the wire-tap and other evidence and the federal government in these big drug crime cases is not usually ready to give up all that evidence.
They like to do a full investigation, finish their investigation and then they go and arrest everybody at the same time, so people don't know they're coming. It makes it easier to arrest them. It makes it easier to catch everybody at the same time and it's probably a lot less dangerous for them, because the people don't know they're coming to arrest them.
A lot of times when they arrest people who are moving drugs, they either let the person go or they give the person a court date in one of the state courts where the case is pending and then they don't end up filing the case at that point because they don't want to give up the information.
Federal Drug Conspiracy Charges
They later end up indicting that person in a federal drug conspiracy along with other people who are involved, and like I said, they don't like to just go piece meal and grab people one at a time. They like to figure out where all the targets are of their drug conspiracy investigation and try if they can to go arrest them all at the same time, that way people can't flee the country, hide drugs or hide weapons.
Because a lot of times when they arrest these people, in addition to the information that they have for a wire-tap, their surveillance, their investigation, they're also able to capture a bunch of other evidence at the time of the person's arrest.
For example, if they go to their home, they might find drugs, or money or other things that help prove the case against them. So, they love to get that search warrant of their car, of their home, of their person, of their devices — there's all sorts of things that the feds are able to get in order to try to prove on of these federal drug crime cases.
So, that kind of gives you a little background of the investigation of a Los Angeles drug crime, you also have to look at how they prosecute these cases and what the punishment is going to be for people.
How Is It Decided If a Drug Case is Filed at the State or Federal Level?
This is a good question because many people get raided by either the state or the feds or both, and they are not sure sometimes whether or not the feds will pick the case up or whether the state will prosecute the case.
Sometimes the state begins to prosecute the case, and later on, in the middle of the case, the feds come in, file the same case, and then the state dismisses their case because you can't be prosecuted for the same thing in two different locations.
The bottom line is that many people seek answers about when the feds pick up a particular case. The feds are the ones that don't prosecute that many cases. There's a huge difference if you compare state prosecution in drug cases, for example, versus federal prosecution.
Really what the dividing line is, is the sheer magnitude of a particular case. In other words, if it's a small dope deal done on the corner in a local neighborhood, the state is probably going to prosecute.
However, I have seen the feds pick up big, kilo drug deals where the person would face the 10-year mandatory minimum. Those cases sometimes they will take if they are the ones that originated the investigation or for some other policy reason they decide to file it.
But usually, you're going to see the feds taking on the big cases where there are a lot of moving parts. They have more resources to prosecute the people involved.
A perfect example is these cases where gang members are involved with selling drugs, dealing with guns, and committing other violent felonies. Sometimes the state simply does not have the manpower or resources to do what's necessary to prosecute that case correctly.
So, the feds will come in. They'll surveil it. They'll get wiretap warrants and have the manpower compared to the state to prosecute those big cases.
Of course, if the feds suppose the feds prosecute the case. In that case, looking at a lot more time – a minimum of 10 years depending on how much narcotics are involved, and if a gun is involved in the narcotic movement, then that's an additional five years right there, so you've got 15 years' mandatory minimum in a lot of these cases – and that's a minimum.
They could get more time depending on the person's criminal record, how much narcotics they were dealing with, and many other factors. So, when you're talking about which drug cases the feds will pick up, you're talking about the bigger ones. Of course, there are some exceptions, but usually, it will be a big case.
The small-level cases involving people who are not gang members and are not dealing with large sums of cash, large sums of narcotics, movement of guns, or gang activity, the feds are not usually going to touch the case. They'll just let the state deal with it.
Federal Agents Seeking Cooperation to Arrest Others
So really, drug crimes in specific of any other crime, lend themselves well to the feds trying to get people to cooperate so they can catch other people. That's the way the whole federal Los Angeles drug crime system is set up. They want you to come in. They want you to talk to them.
They want you to give them information so not only can they lock you in, they can also lock in other defendants who are indicted with you to make it easier to prosecute them, and of course, they love to go out an arrest new people and either add them to the indictment or create a totally separate indictment related to those particular people.
So, a lot of ways that the feds just continue to get drug cases is when they catch people who are involved with drugs, those people have information about other people and their attorneys tell them and they realize that by cooperating with the feds they can lessen their own sentence.
Sometimes they can avoid a 10 or 20 year mandatory minimum sentence at 85% if they cooperate with the government and the government has the ability to shave time off their sentence — and not just a coupe of months — the government can shave years off of somebody's time if that person is giving substantial cooperation to them.
So, you kind of get a feel for how these drug crimes work. I think to really get more detail as it relates to your particular case — because all cases are different — you need to sit down with somebody like me who's been doing this for 26 years, give all your information, and review options if convicted.
It will all be held confidentially, and then we can start to develop a plan to get you out of the criminal federal drug system as fast as possible.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also located at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.