What's the difference between trafficking and distribution of drugs?

While there is a movement across the country to decriminalize the medicinal or recreational use of some controlled substances, the same cannot be said for their manufacture or distribution. That sentiment is certainly true in Texas – The Lone Star State has some of the toughest laws on the books when it comes to trafficking and distributing controlled substances. If you are charged with either drug trafficking or drug distribution in the State of Texas, you can expect to face the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence, steep fines, and felony conviction that will follow you for the rest of your life. That said, what is the difference between drug distribution and drug trafficking?

If the terms sound similar, that's because they are often used interchangeably. In fact, Texas state law doesn't have a specific criminal charge known as “trafficking.” However, as a broader concept, Texas' prohibition on the manufacture or delivery of controlled substances covers every aspect of the drug distribution process.

There are also federal crimes that are commonly referred to as drug trafficking. These charges are serious and are brought in cases that involve a large amount of narcotics or the transportation of drugs across state lines.

Regardless of the charge, any Texas drug crime is serious. A conviction can have life-altering consequences, and in some circumstances, you can spend the rest of your life behind bars. The good news is that an experienced defense attorney may be able to help you beat the charge and avoid a conviction entirely. To discuss your options with Houston's best drug crimes lawyer, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.

What is Drug Distribution under Texas law?

The regulation of controlled substances in the State of Texas falls entirely under the Texas Controlled Substances Act. The State of Texas outlaws the possession, distribution, sale, or manufacture of the same substances outlawed under federal law, but the way they categorize these substances is different. In Texas, all controlled substances are assigned to one of six drug penalty groups. These groups include:

  • Drug Penalty Group 1
  • Drug Penalty Group 1A
  • Drug Penalty Group 2
  • Drug Penalty Group 2A
  • Drug Penalty Group 3
  • Drug Penalty Group 4

There is only one controlled substance that is not included in one of the six drug penalty groups: marijuana. Marijuana is treated differently and generally carries lighter sentences than other substances.

How does a prosecutor prove distribution?

Under Texas law, the definition of distribution of a controlled substance is intentionally broad. The Texas Health and Safety Code makes it a crime to either deliver or distribute a controlled substance.

According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, § 481.002(8), “deliver” means

to transfer, actually or constructively, to another a controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or drug paraphernalia, regardless of whether there is an agency relationship. The term includes offering to sell a controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or drug paraphernalia.

According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, § 481.002(14), “distribute” means

to deliver a controlled substance other than by administering or dispensing the substance.

Together, these statutes punish more than simply transporting or even selling a controlled substance. You can be charged for giving away a narcotic or even for ordering another person to distribute a drug on your behalf.

While the statute covers a wide range of conduct, Houston drug cases are still winnable when the circumstances are right. The first step to take towards earning an acquittal on your drug charges is hiring a Houston drug crimes lawyer.

Penalties for Distribution of a Controlled Substance under Texas Law

If you are convicted for distributing a controlled substance in the State of Texas, your potential sentence will depend on two factors:

  1. The amount of drugs you were convicted of distributing; and
  2. The penalty group of that drug.

The severity of the punishment is highest for substances in penalty group 1 and lowest for substances in penalty group 4. The other factor, weight, is then used to determine the exact penalty range that applies in your case. Once the penalty range is set, the judge in your case will have the authority to sentence you within that penalty range.

The range of penalties is wide. For example, if you are convicted of distributing less than 28 grams of a drug penalty group 4 substance, you will face a sentence between 180 days and 2 years in a state jail as well as a maximum fine of $10,000. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are convicted of distributing more than 400 grams of a penalty group 1 you will face a maximum of 99 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $250,000.

There is one constant in all Texas distribution charges: every case will be treated as a felony. There are no misdemeanor distribution charges available under Texas law, which means a conviction will result in a felony conviction on your criminal record. There are collateral consequences for a felony conviction outside of your potential incarceration. These include:

  • Losing the right to vote
  • Difficulty maintaining employment
  • Difficulty obtaining housing
  • Losing the right to own a firearm

What is Drug Trafficking under federal law?

As mentioned above, federal law categorizes controlled substances differently than under Texas state law. Under federal law, each drug is categorized into one of five drug schedules, with Schedule 1 containing the heaviest-regulated drugs and Schedule 5 containing the least-regulated. Unlike Texas law, there are no exceptions. In fact, under federal law, marijuana is included in schedule 1 as opposed to having the lightest sentencing range under state law.

The most commonly charged federal drug crime is drug conspiracy. While there are individual statutes relating to drug possession or manufacturing, conspiracy is favored by federal prosecutors because it gives the prosecutor broad leeway in who they charge. Federal drug conspiracy charges are outlined in 21 U.S.C. § 842 and is found under 21 U.S.C. § 846.

Section 842 provides that

...it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally—
(1) to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or
(2) to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.

Section 846 provides that

Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.

In other words, you can be charged with federal drug trafficking charges if you distribute or even conspire to distribute a controlled substance. And even if you only play a small role in the conspiracy, you will face the same potential penalties as everyone else involved.

Penalties for Federal Drug Trafficking Charges

If you are convicted of conspiracy to traffic drugs under federal law, you could face a minimum prison term of up to 10 years in a federal facility. What's more, you could also face fines in the millions of dollars. Even if you are not charged with conspiracy, a federal conviction for the distribution of a controlled substance can land you between 5 and 25 years in federal prison on a first offense. A third conviction can carry a potential life sentence under federal law.

Beating The Charge – How a Board Certified Expert Approaches Defending a Houston Drug Trafficking or Distribution Case

Despite the differences between state and federal trafficking/distribution cases, attorney Doug Murphy has a similar approach to defending his clients in every situation. That's because the same viable defenses or defense strategies to a state-level distribution case can also be successfully used in a federal case. Below are some of the defenses Doug Murphy has successfully used.

  • Constitutional Defenses – The United States Constitution prevents the government from illegally searching your home or person. It also prevents them from stopping your vehicle without a valid reason. If the evidence the prosecution intends to rely on in your case was obtained illegally, your attorney will have the opportunity to have it excluded from your trial.
  • Actual Innocence – Law enforcement makes mistakes every day. In some tragic cases, they can arrest you on a charge as serious a drug trafficking or distribution even if you are innocent. Doug Murphy understands that there is no greater duty than to provide an innocent client with the strongest defense possible. At trial, his focus is on holding the state to their burden of proof. If the prosecutor can't prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you should walk out of your trial free and clear.
  • No Proof of Delivery – Even if you were in possession of a controlled substance, the prosecutor must prove that you delivered it to another person or were involved in a conspiracy to do so. While this defense might not absolve you of all charges, it could eliminate the most serious charge you face.

If you want an attorney ready to fight for you, contact Doug Murphy. Doug Murphy is a Board Certified expert in criminal defense law, and his reputation as one of Houston's best defense attorneys is earned by the results he obtains for his clients. To learn more, schedule your free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.

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