Even a relatively minor drug possession charge – or an iffy drug possession conviction – in the State of Texas can upend your life in critical ways that you may not be able to rectify. The Texas criminal justice system relies heavily on drug possession charges to keep its jails and prisons full, and it takes such charges exceptionally seriously.
If you face a criminal charge in Texas, defending your legal rights and fiercely advocating for your case’s best possible resolution is paramount. An experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney can help you do just that.
Case in Point
A recent op-ed in The Washington Post highlights exactly how critically your life can be affected by a relatively minor drug possession conviction in the State of Texas. Pay attention to the severe consequences described in this case.
Erma Wilson is a 45-year-old certified nursing assistant who likes her job, but her dream of being a registered nurse was dashed when she was slapped with a felony conviction due to “an astonishing encounter with the criminal justice system.”
Wilson aspired to be a registered nurse since the age of nine, but fate – and the Texas criminal justice system – had other plans.
In the dog days of a Texas summer when Wilson was in her early 20s, she and her girlfriends were hanging out at a local concentration of bars and restaurants where young people commonly gathered.
While there, a police officer called her over to his cruiser, and when she inquired after the reason, the officer responded with a curt response that demanded her compliance. Wilson recalls warily backing away from the officer in question before turning and running.
Even though being wary of the police in such a situation is generally prudent, running away from the police is almost always a terrible idea that can lead to very serious consequences.
Handcuffed and Charged
Because Wilson attempted to flee, she was handcuffed and put in the police vehicle. She was then told that the police had found crack cocaine near where she had been standing.
Wilson informed the officers that it was not hers, and they let her know that if she revealed the owner of the illicit drug, they would let her go. When she was unable to do so, Wilson was charged with possession of a controlled substance.
After Wilson’s arrest, a string of plea bargain offers related to drug possession followed. Instead of admitting to a crime she did not commit, Wilson chose to put her faith in the Texas criminal justice system – to her own detriment.
At Wilson’s trial, the officers who originally charged and arrested her admitted all the following facts:
They had not seen her in possession of the drug in question
Wilson had not been in possession of any drug paraphernalia at the time of her arrest
Wilson did not appear to be under the influence of drugs at the time of her arrest
Nevertheless, Wilson was convicted of being in possession of a controlled substance.
Because it was a first offense, she received the relatively light sentence of eight years of probation, which led to a lifetime of disappointment in terms of her chosen career (becoming a registered nurse). Texas will not issue a registered nurse license to anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related charge.
Wilson’s case also involves prosecutorial misconduct and a host of other concerns, but the outcome is the same – Wilson was denied the right to pursue the career of her choice because of a youthful conviction that was obtained under very questionable circumstances.
The Consequences of a Conviction
If you are facing a criminal charge in the State of Texas, the stakes are far too high to leave the matter to chance – no matter how innocent you know yourself to be or how minor you consider the charge.
Just because you may not do jail time does not mean that a conviction (or plea bargain, which amounts to a guilty plea) will not profoundly affect your future. In addition to penalties, fines, and consequences related to professional licensure, a criminal conviction in Texas can lead to all the following consequences:
The inability to obtain a federal student loan, the inability to gain acceptance in the college of your choice, and the loss of the right to live on campus if you do gain acceptance to a college or university
Difficulty obtaining a job
A significant shift in your social standing
Difficulty renting a house or apartment
Difficulty obtaining a home loan
Instead of rolling the dice and taking your chances when it comes to a criminal charge, working closely with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney is always in your best interest.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney in Your Corner
A dedicated criminal defense attorney has the experience and legal insight to help ensure that your legal rights are well protected throughout the criminal justice process and to perform all of the following critical tasks in pursuit of your case’s optimal outcome:
Gathering all the evidence in your case, including eyewitness testimony and any exculpatory evidence (evidence in your favor) that the prosecution has access to
Discussing your case knowledgeably with the prosecution in an effort to have your charges dropped or decreased if at all possible
Negotiating a favorable plea bargain if having your charges dropped is out of the question
Preparing for court if the prosecution refuses to offer a beneficial case resolution
Ensuring that you understand the charges you face and the complete consequences of a conviction
Helping you make the well-informed decisions that are right for you throughout the legal process
The State of Texas takes drug charges exceptionally seriously, and you are well-advised to do the same. Prepare to face your drug charges by contacting a criminal defense attorney.
The severity of the drug possession charge you face will hinge on the kind and the amount of drug that is alleged to have been in your possession. Illegal drugs are categorized into penalty groups that range from 1 to 4, with an additional category for marijuana.
Penalty Group 1 generally refers to opioids and especially dangerous street drugs. A few common examples include the following drugs:
Hallucinogens, such as LSD and mescaline
The penalties and fines for simple possession of Group 1 drugs are exceptionally harsh and include the following consequences:
For possession of less than 1 gram, you can face a state jail felony charge, which can lead to 180 days to 2 years behind bars.
For possession of from 1 to 4 grams, you can face a third-degree felony charge, which can lead to 2 years to more than 10 years in prison.
For possession of from 4 to 200 grams, you can face a second-degree felony charge, which can lead to 2 years to more than 20 years in prison.
For possession of from 200 to 400 grams, you can face a first-degree felony charge, which can lead to 5 years to 99 years in prison (or to a life sentence).
For possession of 400 grams or more, you can face a first-degree felony charge, which can lead to 10 years to 99 years in prison (or to a life sentence).
Simple possession, in other words, is rarely simple.
A possession charge for a Penalty Group 2 drug tends to carry somewhat less severe sentences than for Group 1, but you can still face up to 180 days in jail for possession of less than even a gram of the hallucinogenic drugs that make up this class. Examples include the following drugs:
MDMA, commonly referred to as Molly or Ecstasy
PCP, commonly referred to as Angel Dust
Hashish, which is a potent derivative of the cannabis plant
Possession of more than 399 grams of a Group 2 substance can lead to a life sentence and fines of up to $50,000.
Groups 3 and 4
Most illegal prescription medications are classified in either Group 3 or 4, and common examples include the following drugs:
Benzodiazepines and other common sedatives, including Valium and Xanax
Other prescription medications with the potential for abuse
Although the sentences for Groups 3 and 4 drugs are less harsh than those for Groups 1 and 2, they are triggered by a smaller amount. Just 200 grams of these prescription drugs can lead to a sentence of 1 to 20 years in prison and fines of $4,000 to $10,000.
Texas’s relationship with marijuana and attendant charges is evolving, but this drug remains illegal – even in small amounts – and the consequences of a possession conviction can be severe. If you are charged with possession of more than 2 ounces of marijuana, you can face fines of $4,000 to $50,000 and a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
After the War on Drugs
According to the Texas Center for Justice & Equity, policymaking after the declaration of a national war on drugs in the 1980s greatly increased the number of people in the State of Texas who were thrown in jail for drug-related offenses. In 2019 alone, 128,000 of the nearly 700,000 violations that led to arrests in Texas were drug-related.
Further, the state’s lack of drug treatment infrastructure helps ensure that Texans who suffer from drug addiction are far more likely to be incarcerated than to receive the help they need.
While charges for every type of serious and violent crime have decreased significantly across Texas, drug possession charges have risen by about 25 percent, perpetuating a cycle of abuse, arrest, and incarceration that destroys families, supports the drug crisis, and wastes financial resources that could be put to much better use.
Justice and Drug Charges
According to the Urban Institute (as reported by the Texas Center for Justice & Equity), the increase in drug-related incarcerations comes at great expense to the public at large.
In truth, research demonstrates that a public health response to drug abuse is far more impactful than a criminal justice response, and the overall consequences of putting offenders in prison “have a questionable impact on public safety.”
Statistics support the finding that there is little if any correspondence between the rate of incarceration for drug-related charges and any of the following outcomes:
The rate of drug usage
The number of fatal overdoses
The number of overall drug-related arrests
All told, Texas’s criminal justice response to drugs has not been effective at mitigating the damage they cause or deterring their use.
Legal enforcement of low-level drug crimes does little to restore health and well-being and, typically, only serves to support conditions that tend to foster drug use in the first place. Unfortunately, legal enforcement of low-level drug crimes is also disproportionately distributed along racial and socioeconomic lines. Consider the following statistics:
In 2019, there were more than 2.3 million people behind bars across the country, and 60 percent of those incarcerated were either black or of Latin descent (while these groups make up only 31.7 percent of the overall population).
Nearly two-thirds of those behind bars in 2019 had incomes of less than $12,000 annually prior to being sentenced.
Discuss Your Charge with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is a practiced Killeen criminal defense attorney who is well prepared to skillfully advocate for your legal rights in focused pursuit of an advantageous outcome for your case.
Criminal matters are far from trivial, and you should take them seriously because they can jeopardize your future.