How Severe Are Drug Possession Charges in Texas?
By: Mark Diaz
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How Severe Are Drug Possession Charges in Texas?
Texas has a reputation for being tough on crime, and Texas drug possession laws are a prime example of how members of the criminal justice community crack down on offenders. Police and prosecutors aggressively pursue these cases, so drug possession charges are most definitely a serious matter in the Lone Star State. In the context of the Texas Controlled Substances Act, there are two ways of putting the severity of the crime into perspective:
- Whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony.
- The potential punishment for a conviction, including incarceration, fines, probation, and other sanctions.
These factors are obviously interconnected since the penalties for a conviction on felony charges will be harsher than misdemeanor possession. However, there is much more to consider when answering the question: “How severe are drug possession charges in Texas?”
Most people don’t understand the many ways a conviction can change their lives. As with any criminal matter, it is critical to retain a Galveston County drug crime lawyer as early in the legal process as possible. Some background information may also help you understand what to expect with drug possession cases.
Overview of Texas Drug Possession Laws
The starting point for drug cases is classifying the illegal conduct; drug laws in Texas distinguish the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs as well as drug possession. Other important factors include the characterization of the drug itself. To this point, Texas States’ system is similar to the federal system of schedules when classifying controlled substances.
In general, the Penalty Groups are based on the drug’s potential for abuse, the risks of addiction, and whether or not the controlled substances have a currently accepted medical use. For instance:
- The most serious drugs fall within Penalty Group 1, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
- Penalty Group 2 includes mushrooms.
- In Penalty Group 3, there are numerous substances that are available by prescription.
- There are some over-the-counter medications and other prescription drugs in Penalty Group 4, such as codeine and opium.
- Marijuana is a separate category as described below.
To obtain a conviction for drug possession in Texas, the prosecution must prove that you had possession (or care, custody, and control) over a controlled substance that is illegal. These essential elements raise important issues about the state of mind, as well as actual or constructive possession.
Additional Factors in Drug Possession Cases: With the above summary of drug possession laws in Texas in mind, you should also keep in mind the following considerations:
Pot is not included in any Penalty Group, making up a category all its own when it comes to drug possession charges in Texas. Texas has followed many other U.S. states in slightly decriminalizing marijuana, but as of now, possessing marijuana in Texas still remains a crime. Depending on the amount and the activities related to it, the severity of the charges can elevate quickly.
Federal Drug Charges
Though Texas has its own laws on drug possession, some cases can lead to federal drug charges. If you were on federal property, crossed state lines while in possession of a controlled substance, or do some act that would otherwise trigger federal criminal jurisdiction, your case could end up with the feds. If so, the criminal process works according to Schedules under the US Controlled Substances Act.
Possession and Other Drug Crimes
Aside from the Penalty Groups, charges for Texas drug crimes can also be based on the circumstances surrounding an arrest. To illustrate:
- You could face drug trafficking charges if you are in possession of drugs that weigh more than a certain threshold and you also at the time possess large amounts of cash.
- In addition to large amounts of drugs in your possession, you could be arrested for manufacturing when there are also indications that you are packaging, producing, growing, cultivated, or otherwise selling/distributing the drugs.
Penalties for Drug Possession Charges in Texas
Punishment for a conviction depends on many things, starting with the type of drug within the Penalty Groups and the amount. These factors will determine whether you face a felony or misdemeanor charge.
In addition, past convictions and aggravating factors will also affect the severity of drug possession charges. To summarize the range of punishment:
- At a minimum, you can expect a drug possession charge to be Class B Misdemeanor. If convicted, a judge could sentence you up to 180 days in jail and/or up to a $2,000 fine.
- For Class A Misdemeanor drug possession, you face a maximum of one year of incarceration and/or fines of up to $4,000.
- When you are found in possession of any amount of a Penalty Group 1 controlled substance, you will be charged with a felony. Any amount less than 1 gram is a State-Jail Felony, meaning you’re looking at a minimum of 6 months in a State Jail and up to 2 years. This could also include a fine up to $10,000.
- For amounts between 1 to 4 grams of a Penalty Group 1 substance (Third-Degree Felony), you face a minimum of 2 years in prison and up to 10 years, and again a fine not to exceed $10,000.
- For a Second-Degree Felony, 4 to 200 grams, your punishment range is from 2 years and up to 20 years in prison.
- The most severe penalties for drug possession in Texas are punished as First-Degree Felonies and also enhanced First-Degree charges. If convicted, the punishment will be at least 5 years in prison and the max is life in prison. If the charge is enhanced, then you could be looking at a minimum of 15 years in prison.
Do Not Underestimate Collateral Consequences
While much of the focus is on the penalties for a conviction, it is important to realize the non-criminal ramifications of drug charges. Even after you serve your criminal sentence, pay fines, and meet other conditions established by the court, you will likely encounter additional challenges by way of collateral consequences. These factors must be considered when you think about the severity of drug possession charges in Texas. Some examples of the collateral consequences of drug charges include:
- Losing your right to vote indefinitely – convicted felons cannot vote.
- Your driver’s license could be suspended or revoked.
- Any professional or business licenses you hold could be revoked, or you could be ineligible for applying for new licensing.
- A court could find grounds to terminate your parental relationship with minor children.
- There may be challenges with employment when a misdemeanor or felony conviction for drug possession appears in a criminal background check.
Timeline of a Drug Possession Case
The above information on the severity of drug charges may make your situation look somewhat grim, but always remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. There may be defenses or strategies to fight the charges. To understand how they work, you might benefit from reviewing some information on the stages of a drug crimes case:
- An arrest is often what triggers the criminal process, though a drug possession case may come through indictment if government officials have been investigating. Immediately upon being charged or becoming aware that you are the target of an investigation, contact an attorney. You have rights during investigations when questioned by police, and whenever you are in custody.
- There is a lot of activity during the pretrial phases of a drug possession case. Issues at this stage may revolve around whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. With a weak case, you may be able to get the charges dropped, or working out a plea bargain is also usually an option. There can be key questions about whether the State can prove possession, which may lead the prosecutor to be more willing to consider a plea agreement. In cases where evidence of possession was obtained in violation of your constitutional rights, your Galveston County drug crime lawyer may have grounds to ask the court to exclude the evidence and if the court agrees, the evidence cannot be used against you in the prosecution. At times, this may lead to a dismissal of the charges.
- You will have plenty of opportunities to fight drug possession charges at trial if they have not already been resolved by reaching a plea agreement, or some other disposition. If the case goes to trial, then the burden of proof is on the State, meaning the prosecution must present its case-in-chief in an attempt to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will leverage strategies to instill a question in the minds of jurors, possibly leading to an acquittal if the prosecutor cannot prove essential elements.
- Once the prosecutor rests, your lawyer may proceed with presenting defenses to drug possession charges in Texas. Lack of intent, insufficient evidence of possession, and other strategies that may be effective in fighting the charges.
A Galveston County Drug Possession Defense Lawyer Will Fight for Your Rights
Hopefully, this information on the laws, penalties, and collateral consequences provides you with some guidance on the severity of drug possession charges in Texas. The most important takeaway here is realizing that you must retain skilled legal counsel for assistance in fighting the charges.
To learn more about how our team can help obtain the best possible outcome, please call Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. You can schedule a no-cost consultation by calling (409) 515-6170. Our Galveston County drug possession defense attorneys represent clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston, so we are prepared to take on your case.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm Located in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.