By: Mark Diaz
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List of Drug Charges and Sentencing in Texas
The Lone Star State has some of the toughest controlled substances laws in the US, so you can expect that the list of drug charges and sentencing in Texas is a long one. In short, the nature of the offense depends upon the type of substance, its weight or volume, and the illegal acts the defendant engaged in with respect to the drugs.
Taken together, these factors lead to more than 128,000 drug crime arrests every year according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Depending on the offense and underlying circumstances, you could face misdemeanor or felony drug charges. A conviction could mean jail time, fines, and other long-term consequences.
While you cannot immediately reverse an arrest for a drug offense, it is critical to be proactive about your defenses and strategies for possibly beating the charges. Your first priority should be retaining a Galveston County drug crime attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. You are at a disadvantage going up against an experienced prosecutor unless you have skilled representation. Still, a summary of Texas controlled substances laws and sentencing is useful for understanding the basics.
Types of Drug Crimes
Texas controlled substances laws prohibit three types of conduct with respect to drugs:
1. Drug Possession: To possess a controlled substance means to have care, custody, control, or managing authority over the drugs. Possession can be actual, such as when the controlled substances are in your hand, a pocket, a purse you are carrying, or otherwise stored on your body. You could also face drug possession charges for constructive possession, in which the controlled substance is in a space nearby and within your custody. For instance, drugs stowed in the glove box of your vehicle could be within your constructive possession.
2. Drug Manufacturing: Almost any activity associated with the production and processing of controlled substances could lead to charges for drug manufacturing. The statute prohibits:
- Packaging and repackaging
- Labeling and relabeling
- Any other activities involved with preparing a controlled substance for the end-user
3. Drug Distribution: This offense covers what most people know familiarly as drug trafficking, but Texas uses the term “distribute.” You could face drug charges if you transfer, offer, or provide a controlled substance to another person. There does not need to be an exchange of money or other items of value to constitute drug distribution.
In addition, Texas bars possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of drug paraphernalia. The statute applies to some of the devices and tools commonly used to consume controlled substances, such as pipes, bongs, one-hitters, rolling papers, and vape pens. However, officials know that people are creative in using drugs and will apply many other objects to consuming them. Plus, drug paraphernalia could be any item that could be used to plant, store, package, conceal, test, assess, or otherwise produce controlled substances.
As a result, there are many household items that qualify as drug paraphernalia. These items are not illegal on their own, but they could become prohibited contraband when the facts reveal an intent to use them for drug-related activities. Examples include:
- Plastic baggies
- Kitchen scales
- Razor blades
Texas’ System of Penalty Groups
Aside from the unlawful activities, the other important aspect of a drug crimes case is the type of controlled substance. Texas criminal statutes establish a system of classifying drugs that is very similar to federal laws that set controlled substances schedules. The focus is on Penalty Groups:
- Penalty Groups 1 and 1A: The most serious drug charges pertaining to controlled substances in these categories. The list includes drugs that are likely to cause abuse and addiction, and which for the most part do not have an application that is recognized by the medical profession. Examples include cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Penalty Group 1A contains lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
- Penalty Groups 2 and 2A: Drugs in this category are less likely to lead to addiction than those in Penalty Group 1, but they are still dangerous. Hallucinogens, including mushrooms, ecstasy, and PCP, are included. Penalty Group 2A covers controlled substances that replicate or are derived from cannabinoids, such as K2 and Spice.
- Penalty Group 3: In this lower category, some controlled substances do have an accepted use by health care providers. They are still illegal without a prescription. Anabolic steroids, Ritalin, Valium, and other medications that act as a stimulant or depressants are examples.
- Penalty Group 4: Though they are the least dangerous and less likely to be abused, drugs in this category are still unlawful. Penalty Group 4 drugs include prescription opiates and opioids, which get a lot of attention from law enforcement because of the US opioid problem – labeled as an opioid epidemic. Fatal overdoses from these controlled substances are high, so police are aggressive with enforcement.
Marijuana Under Controlled Substances Laws
From the descriptions of Penalty Groups above, you probably notice one of the most popular controlled substances is missing. This is because Texas lawmakers created a special category for marijuana, which remains illegal despite the fact that many US states allow it for recreational use. In general, drug crime sentencing is somewhat lower compared to controlled substances in Penalty Groups 1 through 4. Plus, possession for personal use is a lesser offense compared to manufacturing and trafficking marijuana.
As such, you could face Class B Misdemeanor charges for possession of fewer than 2 ounces of marijuana. For a conviction, a judge could sentence you up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, or both. Still, possession of more than 2,000 pounds is a first-degree felony punishable as explained below.
Drug Crime Sentencing in Texas
With any crime, the punishment depends upon the level of misdemeanor or felony. Controlled substance laws categorize the offense by the activity, drug type, and amount; they may also take into account your criminal history, location of the offense, and other surrounding circumstances. As such, drug charges range from a Class B Misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
If you are convicted of possession, trafficking, or manufacturing, drug crime sentencing works as follows:
- For a Class A Misdemeanor, the penalties could be up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
- If convicted of a state jail felony, a judge may order 180 days to 2 years’ incarceration, plus a maximum fine of $10,000.
- A conviction for third-degree felony drug charges means a mandatory minimum of 2 years’ imprisonment, though a judge could sentence you to 10 years in prison. With all felonies, the maximum fine is $10,000.
- For a second-degree felony conviction, the mandatory minimum is still 2 years. The maximum is 20 years’ incarceration.
- If you are found guilty of a first-degree felony, the mandatory minimum is 5 years in prison. However, the maximum penalty is 99 years’ imprisonment. Even the less dangerous, non-addictive drugs in Penalty Group 4 can carry first-degree felony charges when you possess, traffic in, or manufacture them in very large quantities.
Legal Help with Defense Strategies
The penalties for a drug crime conviction are severe, and you face them the most when you are convicted. You may have defenses to the charges, and opportunities to raise them to start at the earliest stages of your case. Always bear in mind that the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and this burden applies to each element of drug possession, distribution, or manufacturing charges. If the government’s evidence is weak, you may be able to get the charges dropped or gain an acquittal at trial.
Plus, there are other defenses and strategies that you can pursue with help from a Galveston County drug crime attorney:
- If the drug charges are based upon evidence that was obtained in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, the information may be deemed inadmissible in court.
- You may have defenses based upon mistake, a lack of intent, entrapment, or others.
- With some drug crimes, you might benefit from deferred adjudication, plea bargaining, or probation.
- In Texas, some people accused of violating drug laws may qualify for drug court. You might avoid harsh punishment by agreeing to and completing the terms set by the judge.
Trust a Galveston County Drug Crime Attorney to Provide Legal Support
This list of drug charges and sentencing in Texas is useful as an overview, but it takes an in-depth knowledge of the laws and extensive legal experience to fight the allegations. You are in a better position to leverage defense options and other strategies when you have skilled legal counsel on your side.
For personalized advice on how to effectively fight drug charges, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz to schedule a free consultation. You can speak to a Texas criminal defense lawyer by calling 409-515-6170. Our firm represents individuals in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County in a wide range of criminal matters, including violations of controlled substances laws.