By: Mark Diaz
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What are the Penalties for Drug Trafficking in Texas?
When you know that Texas has some of the toughest controlled substances laws in the U.S., you can guess the penalties for drug trafficking will be severe. The details depend on whether the charges involve a felony or misdemeanor under the Texas statute on drug trafficking.
This statute makes it a crime to knowingly manufacture, deliver, or possess with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Typically, this designation has a punishment range that is one degree higher than ordinary possession of the same substance in the same amount. Many additional factors could impact the charges, such as having scales or baggies, including the type and amount of the controlled substance. In turn, these details and others affect the punishment you may face.
However, penalties only apply to those convicted of drug trafficking. An arrest or indictment is just the beginning of the criminal process, and there are defense strategies to employ throughout all stages of the proceedings. With help from a Galveston drug trafficking lawyer, it may be possible to avoid punishment entirely or obtain another favorable outcome. Still, you should be aware of the penalties for drug trafficking in Texas, so an overview should be useful.
Punishment for Drug Trafficking in Texas
As mentioned, the type and amount of controlled substances are the main factors that determine penalties for a conviction. The state generally follows the federal government’s system of schedules for drugs, with some variations. Controlled substances are categorized into Penalty Groups by how lawmakers view the risks of abuse and whether there are accepted uses by members of the medical profession.
Penalty Group 1: Cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, and fentanyl.
Penalty Group 1-A: LSD and salts derived from it.
Penalty Group 2: Adderall, ecstasy and other hallucinogens.
Penalty Group 2-A: Synthetic drugs, chemical compounds, and cannabinoids.
Penalty Group 3: Valium, Ritalin, and opioids not covered in PG1.
Penalty Group 4: A wide range of prescription medications.
Marijuana, spelled “marihuana” in the statute, falls into its own, separate category.
After consideration of what Penalty Group a controlled substance falls into, the next inquiry in determining punishment for trafficking is the amount of the drug. There are different ways in which the substances are measured, such as weight in grams for most controlled substances or ounces and pounds for marijuana.
Depending on the above mentioned factors:
- You could face a State Jail Felony for lower amounts of marijuana and drugs in a lower Penalty Group. If convicted, you could be sentenced to no less than 180 days up to two years’ imprisonment.
- Third Degree Felony charges apply to drugs in the higher Penalty Groups in lower amounts and also to more than five pounds of marijuana. Note that law enforcement will typically weigh the entire plant for drug trafficking charges.
- For higher amounts of certain drugs, the crime becomes a Second Degree Felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years in prison. However, a judge could sentence you to a maximum of 20 years’ incarceration.
- The most serious drug trafficking charges in Texas involve a First Degree Felony. The mandatory minimum sentence is 5 years in prison, while the maximum is 99 years.
For all cases but a First Degree Felony, your punishment may also be a $10,000 fine; if convicted for a First Degree Felony, the maximum fine is $100,000.
Collateral Consequences are Akin to Punishment
It is a common assumption that the implications of a drug trafficking conviction end once you serve your sentence and pay the fines. Unfortunately, many individuals are surprised to learn that there are many ramifications for having a conviction on your record. For one, Texas is one of just a few states that will suspend your driver’s license for 180 days, even if you did not use a motorized vehicle in connection with the alleged crime. Additional collateral consequences include:
- Employment: You may encounter challenges with finding a job since a conviction for drug trafficking will appear on a background check. Alternatively, you may be required to disclose the information if your employer asks about your criminal history.
- Professional Licenses: Finding employment may also be difficult if you rely on a professional or business license to earn money. Many credentials issued by the State of Texas will be suspended or revoked, especially in drug crimes cases.
- Civil Rights: When convicted on felony charges, you lose your right to vote until you resolve all terms of your sentence. A convicted felon cannot own a firearm for at least five years and, when your rights are restored, you still can only possess a gun on your property.
- Asset Forfeiture: If police allege that your property was used in connection trafficking in controlled substances, Texas law allows law enforcement to seize it.
- Financial Consequences: A conviction may impact your ability to get a mortgage, auto loan, or another line of credit. You could also be denied important government benefits.
Police Misconduct in Drug Crimes Cases
Law enforcement aggressively pursues all violations of controlled substances statutes, but there are limits to their efforts. Officers cannot infringe upon your constitutional rights in investigations, when making arrests, and conducting interrogations. However, police can be overzealous in apprehending individuals.
One area of particular concern in drug trafficking cases is your Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. If officers obtain evidence in violation of your civil liberties, the information is not admissible in court. Once illegally obtained evidence is tossed, the prosecution might not have sufficient proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Keep in mind that the government must meet this burden with respect to each essential element of a drug trafficking case. The impact can be considerable, potentially leading to the dismissal of the charges.
Other Defenses and Strategies in Drug Trafficking Cases
Even if you do not qualify for a dismissal based upon violations of your civil rights, there are many other strategies for fighting the charges. Your first opportunity comes when the prosecution is presenting testimony and witnesses since you are entitled to cross-examination. With help from your Galveston drug trafficking lawyer, you can also pursue such defenses as:
- Lack of knowledge about the controlled substance.
- Lack of intent to deliver, which is an essential element of the crime.
- Entrapment by law enforcement.
- Lack of evidence that you had actual or constructive possession when attempting to deliver.
Galveston County “Hope Drug Court” Program
While not a true defense, this may be another option for resolving drug trafficking charges. To qualify for drug court in Texas, you must be at least 18 years old, with no outstanding warrants or past convictions for violent crime. The program is optional and similar to a pretrial diversion, or what you may be familiar with as probation. Instead of focusing on punishment, the goal is to reduce recidivism by reducing addiction and abuse. By completing the terms set by the court:
- You could have the charges dismissed upon completion of the court’s conditions if admitted to a pretrial program.
- You could avoid incarceration after being convicted, in which case the terms of the program are a condition of your probation.
The terms of the program are not suitable for everyone, since you will need to go through therapy, substance abuse treatment, and submit to random drug testing.
How a Galveston Drug Trafficking Attorney Supports Your Rights
In general, a lawyer has the knowledge, experience, and trial advocacy skills to handle the numerous tasks involved at each stage of the criminal process. Depending on the specific circumstances, your attorney can help by:
- Counseling you during investigations and interrogations by police.
- Advocating on your behalf at arraignment, which is the first court appearance after an arrest where bail is determined and you enter a plea
- Pursuing appropriate motions, including a motion to toss illegally obtained evidence and a motion to dismiss the charges due to lack of evidence.
- Employing discovery tools to obtain evidence in the possession of the prosecution;
- Taking depositions of witnesses.
- Attending all court appearances on your behalf.
Your attorney can also advise you on possible plea bargain options, which could arise at any stage of the proceedings. The prosecution may be willing to discuss the agreement, particularly when the evidence is weak or you have solid evidence to defend drug trafficking charges. With most plea bargains, you would typically agree to plead guilty to the allegations in exchange for lenient treatment. You might be able to lower the charges, reduce the penalties, or both.
Discuss Defense Options with a Galveston Drug Trafficking Lawyer
When you know the penalties for drug trafficking in Texas, you realize how important it is to retain experienced legal counsel for assistance with your case. It is a mistake to represent yourself if you do not have a legal background, especially considering the fact that the prosecutor is skilled and knowledgeable in the laws. Even if your circumstances do not point toward an acquittal or dismissal, a lawyer can still leverage strategies for the best possible result.
For more information about drug offenses, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. Individuals in Galveston County and Greater Houston can call (409) 515-6170 to set up a free initial consultation. A Galveston drug trafficking attorney can advise you on the next steps and ways to fight the charges.