What are the consequences for a first-time Houston drug arrest?

If you have been charged with a drug crime in Harris County, Texas, you aren't alone. In fact, every year more than 130,000 Texans are arrested on drug crime charges. The nature and severity of these crimes vary greatly, with some relating to the possession of small amounts of marijuana while other arrests are for the manufacture of large amounts of cocaine.

There is no doubt that the penalties for drug crimes in Harris County are steep. Even first-time offenders must be sentenced under the standard sentencing guidelines. The consequences for repeat drug offenders, however, are steeper.

And while the penalties for a drug arrest in Texas remain stiff, the state has been making strides in softening the impact for some first-time drug offenders. On the state and county level, governments are adopting laws that give first-time drug offenders a break in some cases. If you are convicted as a first-time offender, you may also have a chance for parole or a light sentence instead of facing serious prison time. Each of those possibilities, however, involves a drug crime conviction.

Regardless of the drug crime, you have been charged with, there is the chance that with a strong defense you can beat the case against you. And while the efforts to minimize the effects of a drug conviction are well-intended, the reality is that avoiding a conviction entirely is far better for your quality of life. If you are acquitted, you never have to worry about spending time in jail or worry about what impact your criminal record will have on your life. 

If you would like to learn about your defense options, contact Houston drug crimes lawyer Doug Murphy right away.

Harris County Drug Crimes and their Consequences

While the first drug crime that comes to mind for most people is possession of a controlled substance, the reality is there are many different drug-related crimes under Texas law. Each of these crimes and the potential sentence it carries for a first-time offender is listed below.

Possession of a Controlled Substance

If you are found with a controlled substance in your property or on your person, you can be charged with possession of a controlled substance. Any substance that is outlawed by the Texas Controlled Substances Act can lead to a conviction for drug possession. Under Texas law, all substances controlled by federal law are categorized into drug penalty groups. There are six drug penalty groups in total, with marijuana being the only drug that isn't included.

If you are convicted of possession of a controlled substance as a first-time offender, your sentence will depend on:

  • the penalty group your drug was included in; and
  • the volume of controlled substances you had in your possession.

If you possess small amounts of marijuana, your penalties include a maximum county jail sentence of 180 days as well as up to $2,000 in fines.

On the other end of the spectrum, the penalties for a first-time offender in possession of a large amount of a controlled substance can be extreme.

For example, if you are caught possessing 400 grams or more of methamphetamine you could face a fine of up to $100,000 as well as a prison sentence between 10 and 99 years.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

It's not just illegal to possess drugs – it is also illegal to possess instruments intended to use drugs as well. Known as drug paraphernalia, these items can be specially designed for drug use or simply be household items re-purposed for unlawful means. Common items used as drug paraphernalia include:

  • Plastic bags
  • Planting pots
  • Smoking pipes: glass, metal, or wooden
  • Bongs
  • Vaporizers or combustion devices
  • Syringes
  • Scales
  • Herb or coffee grinders
  • Spoons or beakers for preparing injectable drugs
  • Tubes used for insufflating (snorting) powdered drugs
  • Rolling papers
  • Roach clips.

First-time offenders arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia will be charged with a class C misdemeanor. For a first offense, the penalty is typically a fine of $500 as well as community service. However, repeat offenses can have the charge upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail.

Possession with the Intent to Manufacture

Possessing a controlled substance is punished harshly in Texas. But if you are charged for possession with the intent to manufacture controlled substances, you can expect even stiffer consequences. Possession with the intent to manufacture is essentially a drug dealing offense that outlaws the possession of a drug during the manufacture or distribution process. This charge is always a felony, with possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance leading up to two years in prison. If a first-time offender is convicted for 400 grams or more, he or she faces a maximum fine of $250,000 as well as up to 99 years in prison.

Distribution of a Controlled Substance

Another offense related to potential drug-dealing is distribution of a controlled substance. This charge is always a felony and is brought when you are alleged to have delivered a controlled substance to another person. While money typically changes hands, it is not necessary to make a case for distribution.

Upon conviction, distribution of a controlled substance carries different penalties depending on the type and amount of drug possessed. For less than a gram of a controlled substance, you will face up to two years in a state jail as well as a fine of no more than $10,000. For large distribution cases, the penalties for a first-time offender are up to $250,000 and 99 years in prison.

Diversion of a Controlled Substance

Not all use of controlled substances is illegal. Doctors and nurses are allowed to administer certain controlled substances, but they are required to comply with the law when doing so.

But in some cases, a doctor or nurse may fraudulently prescribe too many or the wrong kind of controlled substances. When this happens, the medical professional could face criminal charges. The penalties for a first-time offender depend on the type of drug that was diverted illegally.

For schedule I drugs, you will be charged with a second-degree felony that carries between 2 and 20 years in prison as well as a maximum fine of up to $10,000. But for prescription drugs that aren't on federal drug schedules, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and imprisoned for no more than 180 days.

Alternate Sentencing Programs

While the Texas legislature has been unwilling to loosen the state's marijuana laws, there has been some progress on lightening the impact for first-time offenders arrested with small amounts of a controlled substance.

Harris County First Chance Intervention Program

On the county level, Harris County has developed what it calls the First Chance Intervention Program. This program is aimed at first-time offenders who have been charged with possessing two ounces of marijuana or less. If you comply with the requirements of the program, your case will be dismissed after 60-90 days. The good news is that if all goes well, you avoid a conviction on your record.

However, completion of the program isn't guaranteed. And if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana charge with the idea that you would clear up your permanent record, you may be disappointed to learn that it is possible to be ejected from the program. If you get in any additional trouble or otherwise fail to comply, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and you may face the consequences of a conviction.

First Time Offender Felony Charge Act

There have also been some changes made on the state level. The First Time Offender Felony Act is a state law designed to help first-time offenders avoid receiving the maximum sentences available. However, the program requires that you plead guilty and are subject to alternate sentencing guidelines. These programs involve additional requirements like substance abuse treatment and can be very costly to complete.

Why These Programs May Not Be Right For You

The goal of these programs is admirable. Unfortunately, they may not be the best option for everyone. Any intervention program that requires a guilty plea will also require you to waive your right to a trial and your ability to appeal your sentence. And while you may eventually get your case dismissed, a minor slip up could cost you a felony conviction. Houston drug crime cases are defensible, and rolling the dice with these intervention programs is often not the best option.

There is also the issue of cost. When you enter into these intervention programs, you are responsible for paying for the costs. While the Harris County program is typically around $100, you can expect to spend far more under the First Time Offender Felony Charge Act thanks to the cost of treatment or rehab.

Discuss your Options with a Board Certified Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with a drug crime in Harris County for the first time, you should discuss your options with an experienced lawyer before making any decisions. In most cases, defense attorney Doug Murphy recommends that his clients pass on intervention programs like the ones described above. It is his experience that taking a case to trial gives his client the best chance at an outcome he or she will be happy with.

If you would like to learn more, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.

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