The arrest, trial, and guilty verdict of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, showcases one of the most important differences between federal and state drug charges: The severity and magnitude of the allegations and charges.
El Chapo Found Guilty on All Counts
The case of El Chapo has dominated the news headlines for weeks, now. The Mexican drug lord was arrested in Mexico in January 2016 and extradited to the U.S. for trial. He was charged with several federal offenses of drug trafficking, including one count of continuing a criminal enterprise.
On February 12, a jury found El Chapo guilty on all counts, pushing the case forward to the sentencing phase which is scheduled for June 25.
The Charge of Continuing a Criminal Enterprise
While the allegations against El Chapo were all severe, by far the harshest charge was for continuing a criminal enterprise under 21 U.S.C. § 848, also known as the Kingpin Statute. Convictions under this statute come with what is colloquially known as “pine box” sentences – a mandatory life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole or other release.
Continuing a criminal enterprise involves managing repeated felony-level offenses that involve five or more people and from which the organizer earns a substantial income. Cases involving the statute are relatively rare, though the felony-level offenses that they involve tend to be drug-related. Many of the defendants who have been charged under 21 U.S.C. § 848 have been leaders of strong gangs, forcing courts to take protective measures for the juries that heard the case.
Federal Versus State Charges
The magnitude and severity of allegations of a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848 are just one of the most extreme examples of the difference between state and federal offenses. Federal offenses typically require there to be interstate activity in order for federal law enforcement to have jurisdiction over the conduct. Additionally, the resources that federal agencies have at their disposal make it inefficient for them to pursue lower-level state offenses, particularly drug offenses. Instead, they tend to let state prosecutors enforce state laws in state courts when the offense does not rise to such significant magnitude.
However, just because state charges are often far less serious than federal ones, that does not mean they are trivial, by any means. Many state drug offenses, like drug trafficking, still carry thousands of dollars in fines and potentially decades behind bars in state prison.
Joseph D. Lento: A Drug Defense Lawyer for Philadelphia
If you have been accused of a drug crime in Philadelphia, you need strong legal representation to defend against the charge. Joseph D. Lento can be your man. With his experience defending those who have been accused of a crime in Philadelphia, he can raise the legal arguments you need to show your innocence. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 for the legal help you need to beat these charges, protect your future, and invoke your rights in court.