By: Mark Diaz
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What Drug Laws In Texas Are The Harshest?
Drug laws in Texas can be tough so it is no surprise that Texas is often described as a state that is particularly harsh when it comes to illegal drug use. Although this reputation may not be completely accurate, it is impossible to deny the substantial legal penalties a person may face if convicted of the illegal possession, distribution, or manufacture of a controlled substance. In this article, we will explore some of the harsher drug penalties available under Texas law–as well as what you can do to fight such charges if you are ever arrested.
What Is a Controlled Substance?
When we talk about “illegal drugs,” we really mean controlled substances. In fact, few drugs are completely illegal. A controlled substance is any chemical compound that may have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and well-being.
Many controlled substances have demonstrated medicinal or therapeutic value. But given the potential for addiction, abuse, or other side effects, these controlled substances may only be handled by licensed professionals and prescribed to individuals on an as-needed basis.
To put things in plain English, all prescription drugs are controlled substances. If you obtained these medications without a doctor’s prescription, you are violating federal and state drug laws.
How Are Controlled Substances Classified In Texas?
The federal government and the State of Texas each have their own Controlled Substances Acts. These acts break down all controlled substances into different categories, which are known as schedules. The federal and state schedules are largely the same, although there may be some differences. For purposes of this article, we will be looking strictly at the Texas Controlled Substances Act (TCSA).
The TCSA refers to its schedules as “Penalty Groups.” There are five penalty groups in total. Penalty Group 1 includes the most heavily regulated controlled substances. These are essentially chemical compounds that, according to the State of Texas, are by their very nature highly dangerous and addictive. The most commonly used–and abused–Penalty Group 1 drugs include cocaine, heroin, Methamphetamine, and Ketamine. There is also a Penalty Group 1-A that primarily includes LSD.
Another key category of Penalty Group 1 controlled substances are opioids. If you or your family have experienced addiction to painkillers, these are opioids. Some of the more widely abused opioids are codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.
Again, it is important to emphasize that if you have a lawful prescription for opioids, it is not against the law to possess them. But if you become addicted to opioids and continue to seek the drug from non-medical sources once your prescription runs out, you can be arrested and prosecuted for possession of a Penalty Group 1 drug. Also, note that many other Penalty Group 1 drugs like cocaine have no legally accepted medical use. It is always illegal to possess such drugs.
What Are The Penalties For Possessing a Penalty Group 1 Drug?
Each of the Penalty Groups carries its own sliding scale of criminal degree and punishments. In Texas, all criminal offenses are classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors are crimes punishable by no more than 1 year in jail.
At the lowest end of the scale are Class C misdemeanors, which carry a fine but no jail time. There are also Class A and Class B misdemeanors. Felonies, aside from capital crimes, are broken down into four categories, ranging from state jail felonies to first-degree felonies.
When it comes to possession of a controlled substance, the type and degree of criminal charge largely comes down to the amount of drugs involved. The rule of thumb is that the more drugs the police find, the harsher the charge–and the greater the potential prison term. Although possession of drugs in any of the Penalty Groups can lead to first-degree felony charges if the quantities are sufficiently large, the charges start at the felony level for Penalty Group 1 drugs.
For example, let’s say a person is arrested for possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine. Since cocaine is a Penalty Group 1 controlled substance, the charge is a state jail felony–even though the amount involved is quite small. If the defendant is convicted, they face a state jail term of anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. They may also have to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
Now, what if a similar defendant is caught and charged with illegal possession of 1 gram of anabolic steroids. This a Penalty Group 3 controlled substance. Even though the quantity of drugs was the same as the cocaine defendant, the steroids defendant will only be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction on this charge only carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in county jail and a $4,000 fine.
In fact, you can possess up to 28 grams of a Penalty Group 3 controlled substance and still be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. In contrast, if you have 28 grams of a Penalty Group 1 drug, that is prosecuted as a second-degree felony. This is where we get into the harshest levels of punishment, as a second-degree felony carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in state prison.
Can You Go to Jail for Life for Drug Possession?
Yes, if enough drugs are involved, possession can lead to a first-degree felony charge–and a prison term of up to 99 years, which is effectively a life sentence. Keep in mind, we are not talking about small amounts of drugs used for purely recreational purposes. Once you get to the first-degree felony level, the prosecution believes your intent was to distribute those drugs to other people.
For Penalty Group 1 controlled substances, the first-degree felony charge is triggered when there is at least 200 grams of drugs involved. The minimum prison term for a first-degree felony conviction is 5 years. But again, depending on the facts of a particular case, it is possible for the judge to impose the 99-year de facto life sentence.
There is also an “enhanced” first-degree felony charge that applies when there are more than 400 grams of a Penalty Group 1 drug involved. The enhanced charge carries the same maximum punishment of 99 years. But the minimum term is doubled from 5 to 10 years.
What The Penalties For Marijuana?
Marijuana is perhaps the most commonly used drug in Texas. It also does not fall within any of the Penalty Groups discussed above. Marijuana is essentially its own category of controlled substance.
The same general sliding scale of misdemeanors and felonies remains intact. At the low end, possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor. To get to the first-degree felony, the police would need to catch you with over 2,000 pounds of weed. But state jail felony charges kick in at just 4 ounces.
Texas law also has some special penalties with respect to the sale or distribution of marijuana. The sale of 7 ounces or less may be prosecuted as a Class B or Class A misdemeanor, depending on whether or not the defendant received any “numeration” (i.e., money) for the weed. Additionally, the distribution of any amount of marijuana to a minor is automatically charged as a third-degree felony, which can lead to a maximum state prison term of 20 years.
How Can You Avoid the Harshest Penalties for Drug Possession?
Even if you are placed under arrest because a controlled substance is found on or near you, that does not automatically mean you have committed a crime. There are multiple possible defenses to a drug possession or drug distribution charge. Every case is different, of course, but some of the more commonly used defenses include the following:
- The defendant lacked actual control over the controlled substances. For example, if the defendant was a passenger in someone else’s car and cocaine was found in the trunk, the defendant did not have actual control over that part of the vehicle and therefore cannot be guilty of possession.
- The defendant had a valid prescription for the controlled substance. Again, this defense will not always apply, as some controlled substances have no legally acceptable medical use.
- The defendant possessed the controlled substance as part of an FDA-approved investigation.
- The defendant was found in possession of a substance that was not actually intended for human consumption.
- The prosecution cannot prove–beyond a reasonable doubt–the exact quantity of drugs involved.
There are also many situations where police did recover an illegal controlled substance that may have been under the defendant’s control, but the search and seizure itself was unconstitutional. For instance, if the police searched the defendant’s home without a warrant, any drugs found inside the property could not be used as evidence in court. Similarly, if the police only found drugs on the defendant after illegally stopping their vehicle, such evidence would also be excluded by a judge.
Given the potentially harsh consequences of a drug conviction in Texas, it is imperative you work with an experienced Galveston criminal defense lawyer who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact attorney Mark A. Diaz today if you need immediate assistance with a drug trafficking or drug possession charge.