What’s the Difference Between State and Federal Drug Charges?

The American legal system, with its dual nature, can make drug charges a complex issue. Both state and federal laws govern the possession, manufacture, and sale of controlled substances. This makes understanding the differences between state and federal drug charges vital, particularly in states like Indiana where drug-related offenses are common.

If you are charged with a drug offense, need you an experienced Evansville criminal defense lawyer. Contact the law office of Verdelski Miller today.

Jurisdiction: A Comparison

The court where you are charged and tried depends on the law violated. Federal laws typically pertain to a federal issue or national interest. State charges are usually handled in circuit court, investigated by local or state police, and prosecuted by the state prosecuting attorney’s office.

Federal court cases are investigated by federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA, or ATF. These cases are prosecuted by U.S. attorneys and heard by a judge appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Concurrent Jurisdiction: An Exception

In some cases, a criminal charge may fall under both state and federal law. This leads to concurrent jurisdiction, allowing you to be tried in both state and federal courts for the same offense. However, concurrent jurisdiction is relatively rare.

Common Charges: State vs Federal

State criminal charges occur within state boundaries and violate state laws that regulate behavior. Drug crimes occurring on federal property can be prosecuted in federal court. If the crime took place in more than one state, it can be prosecuted in federal court.

Federal drug convictions typically involve trafficking, whereas state arrests and convictions usually involve possession. Over half of state and local drug arrests are for possession of marijuana.


One key difference between state and federal drug crimes is the severity of consequences post-conviction. Federal drug charges often carry harsher punishments and longer jail sentences, often charged as felonies. State drug charges for possession without intent to distribute can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors, usually with lighter sentences.

state and federal charges differ in consequences

A Closer Look at State vs Federal Drug Charges

Drug-related crimes are among the most common types of federal crimes prosecuted annually. Federal criminal charges typically involve larger quantities of drugs or drug trafficking conspiracies among many people. These cases often involve long-term investigations and sophisticated surveillance methods like wiretaps and video to gather evidence.

Crimes involving smaller quantities of drugs or only a few people will likely be prosecuted at the state level. The type of drugs involved and their quantity heavily influence whether state vs federal drug charges apply.

Drug Penalties Under Indiana State Law

Indiana’s drug laws are known for their severity, with penalties contingent on the drug type and quantity.

Cocaine and Methamphetamine

Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-6 stipulates that possession of less than three grams of cocaine or methamphetamine is a Class D Felony, punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Possession exceeding three grams escalates the charge to a Class C Felony, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.


According to Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-11, possession of marijuana under 30 grams is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Possession over 30 grams upgrades the charge to a Class D Felony.

Drug Penalties Under Federal Law

Federal drug offenses typically carry mandatory minimum sentences. The severity of these sentences hinges on the crime’s specifics and whether it resulted in injury or death.

Most federal drug offenses carry a mandatory minimum sentence of either five or ten years. However, if the defendant has a previous state or federal drug crime conviction, or if the drug offense resulted in injury or death, they may face a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Call an Experienced Defense Lawyer in Evansville, Indiana!

If you are charged with a drug crime in Indiana, it’s important to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney like Verdelski Miller who can navigate these complexities and defend your rights. Contact our offices at 812-425-9170 for a free case evaluation.

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