State Aggravated Drug Trafficking Charges vs. Federal Drug Trafficking Charges

Can Drug Trafficking be Prosecuted in State and Federal Court?

Drug trafficking offenses are treated very seriously under Oklahoma criminal statute, as well as Federal Sentencing guidelines. However, you or your loved one can still reach a great result in your state or federal drug trafficking case with a case strategy based on the evidence and years of drug trafficking the defendant experiences. Our team of Fierce Advocates specializes in drug trafficking. We are passionate about both the families we defend and their constitutional rights that are always at issue with someone comes into contact with law enforcement.

We really had the privilege of defending a client facing over 20 years in prison on a very serious drug trafficking case in Oklahoma state criminal court. He drug trafficking charges were based on a traffic stop resulting in the discovery of over 25 pounds of methamphetamine in a vehicle driven by our client. Our client’s case was originally filed in Oklahoma criminal state court as Aggravated Drug Trafficking (Methamphetamine). Her changes under Oklahoma drug trafficking statutes carried up to life in prison based on her criminal record and the amount of drugs found in the vehicle she was driving.

Eligibility for Federal Drug Trafficking Prosecution

Not every case is eligible for prosecution in federal court; however, many drug trafficking cases can be handled in both state and federal court due to the interstate nature of drug trafficking. Therefore, we wanted to evaluate potential federal prosecution versus state criminal prosecution for potential sentencing outcomes. We began our researched by studying the appropriate state aggravated drug trafficking penalties, as well as a variety of federal criminal statutes related to drug trafficking and the resulting sentencing calculations based on our client’s criminal history. The results of our research indicated she could receive a much better outcome, a lesser sentence in her situation, by being prosecuted in federal court. Therefore, we began the process to seek to have her case moved to Federal Criminal Court and out of state criminal court.

The decision on what, if any federal charges will be sought in federal court rests with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In order for the United States attorney’s office of the federal district where the alleged crimes occurred to prosecute a case, they must present evidence and information before a Grand Jury in order to seek a criminal indictment. 

In Oklahoma there are three (3) federal districts – Northern District of Oklahoma, Eastern District of Oklahoma, and Western District of Oklahoma. Each federal district has an appointed U.S. attorney and multiple Assistant United States Attorneys that prosecute and supervise individual federal criminal cases. Conversely, in Oklahoma state criminal courts, there are judicial districts, which each have an elected District Attorney and Assistant District Attorneys. Both Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys have a great amount of power over whether or not a criminal case will be prosecuted and what level of punishment will be sought by the government.  

Original Drug Trafficking Prosecution   

As our client’s case was originally investigated by state law enforcement and staffed/evaluated by the District Attorney’s Office, state court criminal charges were filed, not federal charges. Therefore, we contacted the applicable U.S. Attorney’s Office and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys that had authority to present or decline to present a criminal investigation for drug trafficking to the grand jury. We inform the Assistant U.S. Attorney that our client had information relevant to ongoing federal investigations and requested a meeting with U.S. attorney’s Office and federal investigators in order to seek a federal indictment or federal information, in order to have her charged moved to federal court. 

Although our client’s case could be prosecuted in both state and federal court, based on the same facts, it is typical in Oklahoma that state prosecutors or federal prosecutors will not both prosecute the same events or allegations related to the same individual. Said another way, in Oklahoma you will almost always only be prosecuted in one jurisdiction, state or federal, for one act of alleged criminal conduct. 

Based on that information, we knew that if we could convince the federal prosecutor to seek an indictment against our client, it would result in her more serious state aggravated drug trafficking case being dismissed upon her indictment in federal court. A meeting was held with the U.S. attorney’s office and DEA, which resulted in our client being charged in federal court and her state case was dismissed!

Federal Prosecution of Drug Trafficking

Once an agreement was reached for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek an indictment, we began the process of seeking an agreement of what charges would be part of the indictment or what charges our client could enter a plea to in order to resolve her case after the indictment was filed. Once our client was indicted in federal court, an initial appearance took place and we continued to obtain discovery and evidence from the U.S. Attorney to evaluate the government’s case against our client and her options in federal court which largely consisted of the following:

Options when Prosecuted in Federal Court for Drug Trafficking

  1. Fighting the drug trafficking charges: attack the government’s case based on a lack of evidence to prove drug trafficking in federal court or lack of evidence connecting the drugs to our client or her possession of the drugs. 
  2. Fighting drug trafficking charges: attack the government’s case in federal court based on legal issues or suppression issues such as bad traffic stop or unlawful search without a warrant related to her contact with law enforcement. 
  3. Seek a Plea Agreement: Reach an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to enter a guilty plea petition in exchange for an agreed sentencing range or dismissal of some charges in the indictment which would result in limiting our client’s exposure and capping out the potential punishment of range in her case which adds certainty in the circumstance. 
  4. Enter a Naked Guilty Plea: A naked plea is when a federal criminal defendant enters a plea to the indictment without an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then seek a favorable sentence from the court. 

Plea Agreements in Federal Drug Trafficking Cases

In addition to having our client’s state aggravated drug trafficking case dismissed we were able to obtain a Rule 11 Plea Agreement with the federal prosecution office to receive a dismissal of some of our client’s federal drug trafficking case in the indictment in exchange for a plea of guilty to Possession of a Firearm in commission of Drug Trafficking. This resulted in an agreed sentencing range far below her sentencing guideline range for her initial drug trafficking charge in federal court. 

The Federal District Judge accepted our client’s plea petition and a sentencing date was set in the future. The U.S. Probation Office did a conditional Presentence Investigation which takes place in every federal criminal case if someone enters a plea or is convicted at trial. The purpose of the Presentence Investigation Report is to provide the sentencing judge information to consider and determine the appropriate sentence for our client under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) and the Sentencing Factors found at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(A). 

Preparation for Federal Sentencing   

The first step after acceptance of a plea petition by the federal judge is preparation for the U.S. Probation Officer’s Interview. We prepared our client for the interview with the U.S. Probation Office and helped her in realizing her life story and the factors that led her to being in the situation at hand. In this process, we helped our client identify her compelling life story, which we sought to ensure was captured in the U.S. Probation Officer’s Presentence Investigation (PRS). The PSR is a major part of federal sentencing judge’s considerations in federal criminal cases in determining the appropriate sentence. 

Once the U.S. Probation Officer completed their interview and separate investigation into the life and history of client, they created an Initial Presentence Report, which we and the U.S. Attorney’s Office had the opportunity to evaluate and potentially raise objections to on the Initial Presentence Report. 

We took the opportunity on our client’s behalf to raise objections to issues relevant to sentencing in the U.S. Probation Office’s initial presentence report and filed our objections. Subsequently, the probation officer evaluated our objections and drafted the final Presentence Report (PSR), which is filed with the federal court clerk submitted to the court for consideration in sentencing.  This is a key step in defending anyone in federal court, as it is important the PSR tell as compelling a story as possible for the federal sentencing judge. The federal District Judges that determine sentences in federal cases read the PSR in its entirety separate from the sentencing memo we may present on our client’s behalf. 

Federal Sentencing Memorandums in Drug Trafficking Cases

Federal sentencing memorandums are a great opportunity to present a client’s story and circumstances leading them to facing federal criminal charges prior to the sentencing hearing. In this case, we prepare a sentencing memo including arguments and information about our client’s life, photographs of her, her personal story, and what led her to be in the place that resulted in her getting into the trouble she was facing. We file our sentencing memorandum and it was presented to the sentencing judge prior to the sentencing hearing. 

A key takeaway on federal sentencing memorandums is they give your federal criminal defense attorney an opportunity to provide your story and arguments on your behalf before even coming to the sentencing hearing. Presenting a compelling sentencing memorandum is an opportunity that every federal criminal defense attorney should take on behalf of any client facing federal criminal prosecution and federal sentencing.

Federal Sentencing Hearing   

When the day of federal sentencing came for our client, we presented arguments on behalf of our client assisted her in telling her compelling life story as it applies to the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.S.C. § 3553(A). Additionally, at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing our client spoke on her own behalf after we had presented all of this to the court in the presentence report, the sentencing memorandum, and the arguments to the court itself.  

In the end our client’s story was impactful to the court. The Federal District Judge determining our client’s sentence evaluated her circumstances and gave her the absolute minimum sentence that she could receive under the sentencing guidelines within the agreed sentencing guideline range reached with U.S. Attorney’s Office. She received 60 months in federal custody, five-years, with credit for time served on Possession of a Firearm in commission of Drug Trafficking and her other charges were dismissed. This was a significantly better outcome than we thought possible in state court on Aggravated Drug Trafficking charges. 

Unlike state court prosecution, which can only result in incarceration in the state where the crime was committed, in federal court you can be incarcerated anywhere in the United States. As is the case in many drug trafficking offenses, the defendant is not from the state where the prosecution takes place. In fact, most of our drug trafficking clients in Oklahoma are from out of state. However, in federal court, you may request a specific place of confinement from the Court. The recommendation of the federal District Judge is not binding on the Burau of Prisons (BOP) that controls federal inmate housing across the nation; however, it is compelling to BOP. 

In this case, our client wished to be placed at a specific location based on her family and where they were living. We requested this place of confinement from the Federal District Judge at the conclusion of our client’s federal sentencing hearing and the Court agreed to make this recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons. 

Our client is currently serving time in federal custody as of the date of writing this case study; however she is preparing for her return to her home and her family – looking at a sentence that is 20 years shorter to what she may have faced in our Oklahoma state criminal justice system for drug trafficking charges. 

Cannon & Associates

Fierce Advocates®

For Families and Freedom

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