It is not always clear when a criminal case will be handled by the federal government, i.e. the United States Attorney’s Office, or the state or local government, i.e. the state attorney’s office here in Florida. For drug cases, the federal government typically likes to handle the bigger cases, and the cases that involve small amounts of drugs normally stay on the state or local level. If drugs and guns are involved, the federal government often likes to handle those cases because the federal statutes and sentencing guidelines have harsh penalties for people convicted in those cases.
Whether a defendant is better off in state court or federal court depends on a lot of factors such as the nature of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, the judge, the county and other factors. The federal system does have fairly severe potential penalties for all varieties of drug cases, but again, whether a defendant actually gets a severe penalty depends on many factors. However, in federal cases, hopefully help is on the way for those people charged with non-violent drug offenses. We have discussed at length how our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders. This isn’t just an enormous waste of taxpayer money, but it is also counterproductive if the idea is to help people get off of drugs.
Some government officials seem to finally acknowledge this problem and are doing something about it. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced proposed reductions to the federal sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders. The federal sentencing guidelines are guidelines that judges strongly consider when sentencing a defendant for any crime in federal court. These new guidelines would apparently reduce prison sentences by eleven months, on average. This, of course, would also reduce taxpayer expenditures going towards the housing of non-violent drug offenders. It is expected that these new, more lenient guidelines would go into effect later in 2014.