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The details of a drug bust can make it a federal crime

Typically, drug busts are made by state police and local police, but it's important to know that it's very easy for drug charges to become federal charges. This can happen with simple possession charges or more complex charges, like those for manufacturing and producing certain types of drugs. Below are a few examples of how federal charges can come about:

1. An informant, who is already in the federal system, is the one who tips off the police. Sometimes, the authorities will offer lighter sentences if people are willing to give them a list of names. If the federal agents then make a bust based on those names, federal charges could result.

2. A federal officer, and not a local police officer, makes the bust. For instance, if you are caught with drugs in a national park, the officers who work at the park technically work for the federal government and the arrest is made on federal land.

3. The crime crosses state lines. This is most commonly an issue when drug trafficking is involved. If you buy drugs in Texas or Colorado and drive them to Illinois, for example, you could face federal charges.

The number of people who face federal charges has risen over the years. In the 1970s, a mere 16 percent of those in federal prison had been put there on drug charges. By 2001, that number had skyrocketed to about 60 percent. The number has dropped slightly since then, to 48 percent, but it's still significant.

When facing federal drug crimes, be sure you know what rights you have and how the charges can differ from state-level charges.

Source: Slate, "What Makes a Drug Crime a Federal Offense?," accessed Feb. 19, 2016

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