Drug crimes are criminal offenses that are related to drugs. All fifty states as well as the federal government have laws which address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs.
Each unique drug crime has certain standards and carries with it different penalties, especially related to the severity of the crime which was committed. Drug crimes usually include offenses such as:
- Possession: Drug possession is one of the most common drug crime offenses;
- Drug possession charges typically arise when an individual is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization, for example, when they have a drug without a valid prescription;
- Typically, drug possession charges take into account the amount of the drug and whether the amount was for personal use or for sale and distribution;
- Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing typically involves creating or cooking a synthetic chemical substance or extracting a natural drug, for example, cooking methamphetamines or growing illegal marijuana;
- Packaging drugs for resale may be considered to be manufacturing;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs may be a criminal offense, especially in cases where the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the defendant did not have the required prescription; and
- Distribution: This type of drug crime includes the following related to illegal substances:
- trafficking; and
- delivery of illegal substances.
Drug offenses may also include offenses such as drug trafficking, which is largely dependent upon the amount of drugs that were involved in addition to the type of drug which was involved.
What are Some Different Types of Illegal Drugs?
The legality of the majority of drugs are determined by how long they are being used and what they are being used for. For example, marijuana is currently illegal in a large number of states but some states permit recreational use.
Other states only permit marijuana use with a medical prescription. A prescription drug is considered legal for individuals who have a valid prescription.
If, however, an individual possesses or uses a prescription drug without a prescription from a physician, they may be charged with a crime.
Marijuana is one of the most commonly used illegal drugs in the United States, even in those states which prohibit its possession and use. There have been recent changes which have occurred in the marijuana laws.
As of 2021, 18 states recognize marijuana as legal for recreational and medical use. 37 states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes with a valid prescription.
Other drugs which are commonly abused that may cause a individual to face criminal charges include substances such as:
- Ecstasy; and
- PCP, or angel dust.
What is a Controlled Substance?
In general, a controlled substance is a drug which is regulated by the government. Typically, these are substances which may have a detrimental effect on an individual’s health and welfare and, therefore, are strictly controlled by government regulation.
The Controlled Substances Act categorizes drugs into different classes, called schedules, based upon their:
- Medicinal value;
- Potential for abuse;
- Safety to the public; and
- Likelihood for dependency.
Controlled substances may include both illegal drugs and legal drugs.
What are the Possible Punishments for Drug Crime Convictions?
In both state and federal criminal justice systems, the majority of the cases of drug crimes arise from charges of drug manufacturing, possession, or trafficking. The punishment for a federal offense is usually more severe than those for state charges.
In addition, each state has its own rules regarding drug crimes and how those are punished. In general, the punishments are based upon:
- The type of drug involved: The more “dangerous” the drug, the more severe the punishment.
- For example, possessing heroin may result in a more severe punishment than marijuana;
- The amount of the drug: A large quantity of a drug may indicate that the drug was intended for distribution;
- Purpose of possession: Whether the defendant intended the drug to be for personal use or for sale and distribution;
- Prior convictions: The defendant’s prior convictions may be factored into their sentencing; and
- Probation or parole status: If the defendant is on probation when they are convicted of a drug offense, they may probation revocation.
The punishment for drug crimes may vary by state. However, in general, the consequences may include:
- Court-ordered counseling;
- Community service; or
- Loss of child custody.
What Laws Govern Drug Offenses in Texas?
In Texas, drug crimes are governed by both federal and state laws. Federal drug offenses are governed by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, also known as the Controlled Substances Act.
The Controlled Substances Act governs nearly all of the drug offenses in Texas. It is codified in the Texas Health and Safety Code in Chapters 481 through 486.
Because Texas is an international border state, drug trafficking offenses are a major concern. Texas also has several state drug laws which may not be applicable in other states.
What are the Penalties for a Drug Conviction in Texas?
A drug offense is among the more serious criminal offenses in criminal law. They carry severe penalties and may also have other consequences in an individual’s family life as well as their employment.
The legal penalties for a drug offense will depend upon the nature of the drug offense. They will typically include a fine or a lengthy prison sentence.
What Types of Factors are Considered in Sentences for Drug Crimes?
When determining the sentence for a drug offense, Texas courts will consider several factors, including:
- The type of drug: The Controlled Substances Act classifies substances into 5 Penalty Groups. Group 1 is the most serious;
- For example, cocaine is in Penalty Group 1 and prescription drugs are in Group 3;
- The amount of drugs in possession: Incarceration sentences and fines will increase according to the amount of drug the defendant possessed;
- The purpose for which the drug is used: Simple possession is usually considered less severe than other crimes, such as possession with intent to distribute, or manufacturing and delivering drugs; and
- Location of the violation: Drug offenses are considered more severe if they take place in certain areas, for example, near a school or daycare center.
Another important factor that courts will consider is whether or not the drug offense was combined with any other offense. Numerous drug offenses are also related to other crimes, for example:
- Theft; or
If the drug offense is related to another felony, especially a violent felony, the penalties will be more severe.
Are There any Defenses to Drug Charges?
There are not many defenses that are available in drug offense cases. The defendant cannot argue that they were unaware of the laws that govern drug crimes in Texas.
Possible defenses that defenses may present include:
- Coercion: The individual was coerced to commit the crime under a threat of death of severe bodily injury;
- Incapacitation: The individual was incapacitated, for example, they were involuntary intoxicated or mentally insane at the time the crime was committed; or
- Control: The defendant may be able to argue that they were not in control of the substances or drug paraphernalia at the time of their arrest.
It is important to note that proper police procedure is also a vital part of the majority of drug offense cases. Law enforcement is required to have reasonable suspicion that the individual was involved in a drug crime.
A violation of a warrant requirement or a violation of the defendant’s Constitutional rights may lead to a determination that the law enforcement search or seizure was improper. In those cases, the evidence will likely be suppressed and will not be permitted to be used in court.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Drug Offense?
A drug offense is a serious offense and may often lead to felony charges. If you have been charged with a drug offense in Texas, it is important to consult with a Texas drug lawyer as soon as possible.
This is especially true if you have multiple or repeat offenses. Your lawyer can advise you of how the laws in Texas will apply to your case as well as what defenses may be available.