The Difference Between State and Federal Drug Charges

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

Drug laws can be confusing because both state and federal drug laws can apply to a criminal act.

Two men from Pennsylvania recently pleaded guilty and were convicted in West Virginia for their roles in a drug trafficking operation. The two men, Sezar Hamilton and Alonzo Wooden, were caught as part of a long-term, multi-state investigation known as Operation X-Nation.

Hamilton, who is 39, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute hydromorphone, and Wooden, who is 44, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and oxymorphone.

“Distribution” usually means that a person is accused of selling, delivering, or illegally providing controlled substances. This charge is frequently used when someone tries to sell drugs to an undercover officer. “Trafficking” usually means the illegal sale and/or distribution of a controlled substance. Though the word trafficking seems to imply moving drugs across state lines, in practice it typically has more to do with the amount of drugs involved.

The two men were both prosecuted by a United States Attorney in West Virginia on federal drug charges. That means that they will be incarcerated in federal prisons, instead of state prisons.

A key difference between federal and state drug laws is the majority of local and state arrests are made on charges of possessing drugs, while the majority of federal drug charges are for selling and distributing drugs.

Unfortunately for Hamilton and Wooden, another difference between federal and state drug laws is that federal drug charges usually carry harsher punishments and longer sentences. In fact, state arrests for simple possession—meaning that the accused had an amount small enough that it could not be viewed as the accused intending to sell the drugs—can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies.

Both Hamilton and Wooden are facing up to 20 years in federal prison and $1 million fine each, to be followed by at least three years of supervised release. They are scheduled to be sentenced on September 14, 2020, in Bluefield, West Virginia.

Hamilton pleaded guilty after admitting that between August 2017 and August 2019, he assisted in trafficking drugs.

Wooden also pleaded guilty after admitting his role in the drug trafficking organization. Wooden said that between August 2017 and August 2019, he participated in the same drug trafficking organization as Hamilton and others.

According to Wooden, individuals later identified as confidential informants would call another member of the drug trafficking organization and that person would tell the informants where to go to purchase drugs. At the designated place, the informants would receive the drugs from Wooden or another member of the drug trafficking organization.

If someone is pleading guilty to federal drug crimes, if it is their first offense, they may be able take advantage of the Federal First Offender Act, which allows defendants with no prior state or federal drug convictions to enter a guilty plea. The benefit comes in that the conviction will not be officially entered into the record. The court will dismiss the proceedings without ever entering the conviction after the offender completes one year of probation.

If you have been charged with federal or state drug crimes, you need a lawyer who knows how to guide you through the process and how to recommend the smartest course for you to take. Call the Lento Law Firm today for your consultation, at 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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