What Are the Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance in Texas?
By: Mark Diaz
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What Are the Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance in Texas?
While any violation of Texas drug laws is an extremely serious matter, data indicates that the bulk of these cases involve possession charges. There are around 1.84 million arrests across the U.S. for various forms of illegal drug-related activity, and more than four-fifths are for possessing an illegal controlled substance. At the state level, the Texas Arrest Data report compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) indicates that officials arrest almost 123,000 people every year on such charges. In addition:
- In sum, drug possession charges make up almost 90 percent of all criminal arrests in Texas.
- The most common violation is possession of marijuana, at more than 67,000 arrests annually. This figure comprises 14 percent of all arrests in the state.
- Almost 24,000 individuals are charged with opium/cocaine possession, ranking in second place.
- Synthetic narcotics and other dangerous controlled substances round out the list, with a total of approximately 32,000 arrests in Texas every year.
- The estimated number of arrests for drug possession has been rising nationwide, indicating that law enforcement is stepping up investigation and enforcement efforts.
However, it is always important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction. You are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecutor’s burden is a heavy one. There may be defenses or other options to resolve the charges, and the best strategy for obtaining a favorable outcome is retaining a Galveston, TX drug possession lawyer. To get a better understanding of your potential punishment for a conviction, you should also review the penalties for possession of a controlled substance in Texas.
Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance in Texas
Every case is different, so your own personal circumstances and the underlying circumstances of the crime can affect your punishment. If convicted, your sentence will be based upon a combination of the following factors:
- The type of drug, since some controlled substances are considered more dangerous under Texas law
- How much of the drug was in your possession when arrested, with higher amounts being treated more severely
- How the controlled substance was stored when you were arrested, particularly if you made extreme attempts to conceal it
- Whether you were also in possession of drug paraphernalia, large amounts of cash, storage containers which could indicate that you were engaging in a larger scheme for trafficking or manufacturing
- Any past convictions in your criminal history, including both drug crimes and non-drug offenses
Collateral Consequences to Keep in Mind
While many people focus on the criminal penalties for a conviction on drug possession charges, it is important to note the ramifications that may affect your life long after you serve your sentence. A conviction will go on your permanent criminal record, unless you qualify and go through the expunction process. As such, it will appear any time you are subjected to a background check, and you must disclose a conviction under certain circumstances.
If convicted, the collateral consequences may include:
- Challenges in finding employment
- Revocation or suspension of any professional license you hold, which also affects your employment
- Revocation or suspension of your driving privileges, regardless of whether the drug possession charges were linked to use of a vehicle
- Difficulties in obtaining a mortgage, auto loan, student loan, or line of credit
- Problems with living arrangements, since some landlords conduct background checks when you sign a lease
- Many others
How Drug Schedules Affect Possession Charges
Marijuana falls on the low end of the scale in terms of severity of punishment, with smaller amounts being classified as a Class B misdemeanor. Your penalties for being in possession of less than two ounces of pot could be up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.
Controlled substances that fall in other categories are considered as more likely to lead to addiction and have little or no medical application, based upon the federal government’s system of schedules. Therefore, being in possession of these drugs is a more serious crime that carries harsher sanctions. A conviction for Class A misdemeanor possession may include up to a year incarceration and a $4,000 fine. Plus:
- For third degree felony drug possession, your sentence for a conviction could be 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
- If you are convicted for a second degree felony, a judge could sentence you to a maximum of 20 years in prison.
- A conviction for first degree felony drug possession could mean up to 99 years’ incarceration, or even life in prison for higher amounts of controlled substances on Schedule I.
Prosecutor’s Burden in a Texas Drug Possession Case
According to the statute, the prosecution has to prove certain factual elements beyond a reasonable doubt. For a case involving possession of a controlled substance, these include:
- You were in actual care, custody, control, or management over the drugs. From this terminology, you can see that the statute does not merely envision a situation where the controlled substance is in your hand or a pocket. If you exercise control over a larger space, vehicle, container, or parcel, you could still be charged with possession despite the drugs being not within immediate reach.
- You had actual knowledge that the controlled substance was illegal. The law does not punish those who might innocently come into control over drugs, such as by receiving an unknown package, borrowing a car, or accidentally grabbing someone’s bag. With respect to this aspect of a drug possession case, the prosecutor must prove your state of mind – i.e., specific intent.
Strategies for Fighting Possession Charges
The prosecution has the burden of proving the elements of drug possession, so it will present witness testimony and evidentiary exhibits first. Your first opportunities to fight the charges come as the prosecutor is proving its “case-in-chief,” since you can cross-examine witnesses and attack evidence to raise the reasonable doubt necessary to avoid a conviction.
When the prosecution rests, it will be your turn to present defenses. Options to defend Texas drug possession charges include:
- Lack of knowledge that the controlled substance was illegal
- You have a valid prescription for medical marijuana
- The drug was not in your actual care, custody, control, or management
Other Options for Resolving a Drug Possession Case
Even if you do not have a complete defense to drug possession charges, you might be able to take advantage of other strategies. With help from a drug crime lawyer in Galveston, it may be possible to work out a plea bargain for lesser charges or reduced punishment. Plea agreements are often available when the prosecutor’s case is weak.
Many counties in Texas have diversion programs, which are similar to probation in that you can avoid serious penalties by complying with the court’s conditions. There are also jurisdictions in which officials have established a drug court that focuses on treatment instead of incarcerating offenders.
Texas also has implemented a community supervision program as a form of probation. You could qualify if you were in possession of less than:
- One gram of cocaine, meth, or related drugs
- Five units of controlled substances like LSD
- One pound of marijuana
What To Do If You Are Charged with Texas Drug Possession
Starting from the moment you are arrested, you need to be preparing to defend drug possession charges. Your first step should be contacting a skilled drug crimes attorney who will protect your rights and guide you through the criminal process. However, during the urgency of an arrest encounter with police and being detained, you may not have a chance to consult with your lawyer immediately. A few tips can help get you through:
- Never resist arrest. Not only will you still face drug possession charges, but police could add counts for other misconduct.
- Do not make any statements to police or answer questions. You might inadvertently incriminate yourself.
- If you are required to appear in court before you can discuss your case with a lawyer, make sure to enter a plea of not guilty.
- Avoid discussing your circumstances on social media, since prosecutors often monitor profiles to gather evidence. Your photos, comments, video, check in’s, and tags from other friends could implicate you in a drug possession crime.
Consult with Galveston County, TX Drug Possession Attorney
As you can see, even a simple question about the penalties for possession of a controlled substance can lead to complicated legal issues. Because your rights and personal freedoms are at stake, it is critical to get the right answers from an experienced Galveston drug possession defense attorney. With solid representation and a strong strategy, you may be able to avoid the harshest punishment or obtain some other positive outcome.
For more information on fighting drug possession charges in Texas, please call Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz at (409) 515-6170. We can schedule a free consultation with a member of our team who can review your circumstances and determine how to proceed. Our lawyers advocate on behalf of clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston, so we are prepared to serve your needs.