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Federal and Ohio State Narcotics Cases

At Yavitch & Palmer, our Ohio criminal defense attorneys handle all levels of narcotics defense in federal and state courts. Typically, these cases come to our office during the investigative stages, before any charges are actually filed. We often answer a reoccurring question: will the case be federal or will it be in the state courts? And which is better?

These are complicated questions with no quick and easy answer. Generally, we assume that more “serious” Ohio drug crime cases go to the federal courts. This is true to some extent. Federal prosecutors are not interested in indicting minor level cases involving small amounts of contraband. But state court prosecutors will (and often do) indict higher level cases, even those that could easily be federal cases.

The federal vs. state court question is often decided by the law enforcement jurisdiction that investigated or discovered the case. For instance, a case involving the
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) will most certainly be a federal case. These are, by definition, federal agencies.

But even where cases involve local (not federal) law enforcement agencies, they may go to the federal level. Many of these local law enforcement agents are members of a Task Force that has members from various enforcement jurisdictions (even federal). When such a task force is involved in a case, they may choose where to take the case. They may seek involvement from a state court prosecutor. Or they may take the case to a United States Attorney to seek a federal indictment.

Sometimes federal prosecutors learn of a state court case and want to bring it to the federal level. There may be a related federal investigation or prosecution already in progress. Or the case may be of interest for other reasons.

In other cases, a particular enforcement officer is simply more comfortable with a particular prosecutor in federal or state court. They will take the case to the jurisdiction where they are most comfortable.

The threat of a federal drug crime case can be intimidating. And for good reason. The stakes are often higher, and the flexibility of plea negotiations is far more limited. But under some circumstances, a particular case may be better for a defendant in federal court. The federal sentencing schemes are sometimes more lenient. State law often has mandatory prison sentences (sometimes substantial) for certain drug offenses.

Each case is unique. Sometimes we make effort to “steer” an Ohio drug crime case to federal or state courts depending on the nature of the case. We are keenly aware of the personalities, the potential punishment, and the other pros and cons of a particular case.

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