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Federal Jurisdiction & Immigration


Interviewer: At what point does a drug case become a federal case?

James Abate: Whether it’s a federal case or a state case, felonies are handled in the state courts. It’s not a matter of whether it’s a federal case or a state case, but the federal nature of it is simply who has jurisdiction. Is there something that impedes on multiple state lines? Once you’re crossing state lines you’re going into federal territory, whereas if you’re staying within the state you are in, you’re within state jurisdiction.

There is One Aspect That Brings in the Federal Government and That is Immigration.

There is one aspect that brings in the federal government and that is immigration. Some less experienced lawyers will get a client who has got less than 50 grams and not inquire into their immigration status. This can be important because if you go ahead and you plead to less than 50 grams of marijuana or go into Conditional Discharge based on less than 50 grams of marijuana, that can still screw up your immigration status or future applications to be admitted into the country legally. The requirement is that it be less than 30 grams to avoid immigration issues.

Once you’re involved in a case and you know you’re dealing with someone who is not a U.S. citizen, it’s imperative that we make sure that the prosecutor and the judge make a notation that it was less than 30 grams. What we’ll sometimes do is we’ll draft an order stating it was less than 30 grams. It has no legal significance other than when or if the issue ever comes up, the client has a copy of something from the courts saying it was less than 30 grams.

When you’re dealing with a client that has immigration offenses, that brings up a completely different set of standards. Immigration clients need to be advised that there are certain pleas that wouldn’t impact someone else but will impact them. You need to make sure that when you’re dealing with their case that you note the amount of drugs as part of the plea so that you may be able to avoid a minor drug charge from derailing their citizenship application.

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