In the state of Texas, arrests for drug crimes happen every day. According to the Texas Department of Safety, the number of arrests for drug crimes increased in 2017, despite the number of overall arrests essentially remaining unchanged. Those figures only count arrests and charges for violations of state law. While state law charges make up the bulk of drug arrests in Texas, it is important to remember that federal law also prohibits the manufacture, sale, and possession of controlled substances. In fact, state and federal law largely overlap when it comes to drug crimes.
Whether a drug charge would be prosecuted in state or federal court depends on a number of factors, which we will discuss below. But if you have been charged with a drug crime in Texas, having an experienced drug crimes attorney answer your questions is imperative. To discuss your case for the best advice with Houston's top-notch drug crimes lawyer, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.
Federal vs. State Drug Crimes
The State of Texas and the United State government have two different systems for categorizing controlled substances. But it's worth pointing out that while there are differences, the substances in both systems are the same.
Under federal law, controlled substances categorized into five different drug schedules by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Each schedule carries different penalties, with Schedule I carrying the stiffest penalties and Schedule V carrying the lightest.
Texas law also applies criminal punishment for the possession, sale, or manufacture of the substances listed in the federal drug schedules. However, the Texas Controlled Substances Act assigns different penalties than federal law and also organizes the substances in a different way. Under Texas law, there are six drug penalty groups, each with a different sentencing range.
Federal Drug Laws
In total, there are five different drug schedules under federal law. Schedule I drugs carry the harshest penalty, as these drugs either have no medicinal value or are highly addictive. Drugs on lower schedules typically carry lighter penalties as they often have important medical uses but are habit-forming. But having a lighter sentence relative to schedule I drugs doesn't mean possession of a controlled substance on one of the other schedules isn't serious. If convicted for possessing or manufacturing large quantities of these drugs, you could spend the rest of your life in federal prison.
Some of the most common drugs in each schedule include:
- Pure Codeine
- Pure Hydrocodone
- Some Barbiturates
- Anabolic Steroids
- Cough suppressants with codeine
- Anti-diarrheal treatments
Texas State Drug Laws
While Texas state law bans the possession, sale, or manufacture of the same substances outlined in the federal drug schedules, there are some notable differences in the way it categorizes these drugs. Under Texas law, there are six individual categories of controlled substances known as drug penalty groups. These penalty groups are:
- Drug Penalty Group 1
- Drug Penalty Group 1A
- Drug Penalty Group 2
- Drug Penalty Group 2A
- Drug Penalty Group 3
- Drug Penalty Group 4
The only substances listed in the federal drug schedules that are not included in a drug penalty group is marijuana, which is treated differently. This is an interesting distinction, as marijuana carries lighter sentences than any of the other substances barred by state law despite its place in Schedule I under federal law.
These drug penalty groups are used as guidelines by judges at the time of sentencing. There are set minimums and maximums for each penalty group. Those penalties also vary by volume. The sentence that is imposed is up to the judge, but it must fall within the minimums and maximums prescribed by Texas law.
Drug Penalty Group 1
The drugs in penalty group 1 carry the most severe punishment. That is largely due to the fact that these drugs either have no medicinal value or are highly addictive. Some of the substances included in penalty group 1 are opioids, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, peyote, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Drug Penalty Group 1A
A more recent addition to the drug penalty groups, penalty group 1A includes the hallucinogen LSD as well as all salts, isomers, and salts of isomers that go into the production of LSD. Group 1A is unique in that the volume is measured in “units” instead of by weight.
Drug Penalty Group 2
Drug penalty group 2 contains the remaining hallucinogens that were not included in penalty groups 1 or 1A. These include drugs like PCP and ecstasy.
Drug Penalty Group 2A
Another penalty group that was added after the passage of the original Texas Controlled Substances Act, drug penalty group 2 contains recently-popularized synthetic compounds that mimic cannabinoids in the brain. These drugs are often referred to as synthetic marijuana, Spice, and K2.
Drug Penalty Group 3
Many opioids and opiates not listed in previous drug penalty groups fall within penalty group 3. These include benzodiazepines, anabolic steroids, and other prescription drugs with stimulant or depressant effects.
Drug Penalty Group 4
The remaining prescription drugs that are not covered by any other drug penalty group fall within penalty group 4. This group also includes the compounds that go into making many prescription drugs.
When are drug cases prosecuted in federal court?
Since state and federal drug laws largely overlap, there are no set rules on when you must be charged in state court versus federal court. However, the vast majority of drug crime charges are heard in state court. In practice, your drug crimes case will likely proceed in state court unless certain exceptions occur. Some of those exceptions include:
Arrests Made by Federal Authorities
Most arrests for drug crimes are made by state or local police. But if you are arrested by federal authorities, there is a good chance you will be charged with a federal crime and prosecuted in federal court. Federal prosecutors favor prosecuting larger quantity amounts of drugs seized versus leaving smaller drug seizures for state authorities to prosecute.
State and Federal Authorities Agree
In some cases, both state and federal law enforcement will be involved in your arrest or have an interest in the outcome of your case. In some cases, possession charges that would otherwise fall to state prosecutors could end up being handled in federal court. This could be for any number of reasons related to ongoing federal investigations with other people suspected of similar drug crimes.
You Cross State Lines
If during the commission of the crime you crossed state lines, you can expect to be arrested and charged by federal authorities. That is because criminal charges that involve interstate commerce or typically held in federal court. This prevents conflicts between states regarding who should pursue the charges. You may also face federal charges if your charge relates to a large-scale criminal enterprise that spans multiple states.
Arrests on Federal Property
If you are arrested on federal property, you can expect to be charged with a federal drug crime. This is the case even with possession charges that involve a relatively small amount of controlled substances. These arrests are frequently made by federal authorities, which would give an additional reason for the case to land in federal court.
The Severity of Your Charges
While small drug possession cases don't always end up in state court, the reality is that more serious drug charges routinely wind up in federal court. This is especially true for charges that are more serious than mere possession, like drug trafficking and manufacturing of a controlled substance. Another serious charge that routinely lands in federal court as opposed to a Texas state court is drug conspiracy. The federal government prefers to take on these larger cases in part because it gives them leverage. In a conspiracy, they generally do not have to prove the underlying but rather that a conspiracy existed to commit a crime. When the federal government controls a large number of charges against a wide array of defendants, they have a lot of leverage to make deals and turn witnesses. Having an experienced lawyer who knows how to fight federal prosecutors on these cases is critical.
Viable Drug Possession Defenses in State or Federal Court
No matter if you have been charged with drug possession in a state or federal court, there are a number of valid defenses that may be available to you. When reviewing each case, attorney Doug Murphy routinely considers every possible defense no matter how common or how rare. Here are a few of the most commonly used defenses in Houston drug crimes trials.
Valid Prescription – Many drug possession cases are born of a simple misunderstanding. If you have a valid prescription or another license to possess a controlled substance, you cannot be convicted of possession. These cases often arise when a defendant has a valid prescription but is arrested while possessing the substance in a different container.
Constitutional Grounds – You are protected by a number of constitutional rights any time you are accused of a crime. If the police violate those rights, the evidence they illegally collected may be thrown out at your trial. In some cases, the charges against you could be dismissed entirely. In this scenario, we would fight the search and seizure through a motion to suppress evidence on the legal basis of an unlawful violation of your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If the motion is granted, the drug evidence seized would be thrown out of evidence, most often resulting in a dismissal of your federal and/or state drug charges.
Exemptions – there are a number of exemptions under Texas law. These include possession of controlled substances used in certain religious ceremonies, by licensed pharmacists, or by employees authorized to store or transport prescription drugs.
A Strong Legal Defense is Important in any Jurisdiction
No matter the jurisdiction, having strong legal counsel is your best chance at avoiding a drug conviction. To obtain the best legal advice and discuss your case with a board certified criminal defense attorney, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.