Actions That Texas Considers Drug Trafficking
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that drug trafficking constitutes 1 in every 5 drug-related arrests made in the United States. Texas is no exception to this, as drug trafficking is quite common here.
In fact, parts of the Lone Star State have been described as High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, and the DOJ reports that the Texas-Mexico border is extensively used by Drug Trafficking Organizations to bring illicit drugs into the U.S.
Partially because of this, Texas courts don’t take drug trafficking charges lightly. Sentencing guidelines for drug trafficking crimes are outlined in sections 481.112, 481.113, 481.1121, and 481.114 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. If found guilty, one may be served with the following sentences:
- Minimum punishment: a prisoned sentence of between 180 days and two years in a state jail and/or fines of not more than $10,000.
- Maximum punishment: life confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a prison sentence of between 15 and 99 years and/or fines of not more than $250,000.
Additionally, remember that if you are caught trafficking drugs in Texas, you may face either state or federal prosecution. There are diverse circumstances under which a state drug charge may turn into a federal drug charge.
The severity of the charge you face in Texas state court will depend on:
- The type of illicit drug involved, including which of the five Texas drug schedulesit’s classified under.
- The amount being trafficked; generally, the smaller the amount, the less severe the charge and sentence.
If you want to avoid or minimize penalties, it’s important to understand the laws that apply to trafficking in Texas.
According to the law, there are three actions you can take that qualify as drug trafficking in Texas: transporting, distributing, or possessing illegal drugs with the intent to distribute them.
Here’s a more in-depth look at what each of those things means.
Transporting Illegal Drugs in Texas
Quite simply, if you are caught moving a large quantity of drugs from one place to another, this is considered “transporting” and qualifies as a form of trafficking.
One important thing to keep in mind: this act must be done knowingly to count and lead to a conviction. In other words, if your buddy packs his car with drugs without telling you and asks you to drive it to another friend’s house, you should not have to pay the price for moving drugs you didn’t know were there.
Distributing Illegal Drugs in Texas
What about that buddy who tricked you into moving his drugs? Would he be safe because he wasn’t the one moving them?
Many dealers believe this (it’s one of the reasons they do it), but under Texas law that’s not the case. This kind of action falls under distribution, which essentially means selling drugs or giving them to someone else to sell.
Technically, in the story described above, your buddy gave them to you, and you would have given them to the friend who, in theory, was tasked with selling them. This does make the case a bit less of a straight line, but it’s still fairly viable.
Conviction would likely revolve around the prosecution’s ability to prove your buddy’s intent in sending you out with the drugs. Can they show that it was his goal to get them to the other friend to sell them? Is this something they had done before?
Possession with the Intent to Distribute in Texas
This is one of the trickier drug laws in our state, because in some cases it can turn mere possession into drug trafficking.
Possession with the intent to sell requires the prosecution to present evidence showing that the drugs in question were for commercial purposes and not just personal use.
An example is a 2017 case in which two Beaumont brothers and an accomplice were charged with collusion to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine.
Circumstantial evidence that may constitute a crime of possession with intent to sell or distribute include:
- Plastic baggies for distributing or selling drugs
- A drug-weighing scale
- Business records indicating drug purchases and/or sales
- A large sum of cash found in the defendant’s possession during the arrest may also be tabled as evidence that drugs were being sold.
Be careful, though. There have been cases where prosecutors have brought this charge – or threatened it to get people to confess – simply due to there being a large quantity of drugs.
No matter what circumstances law enforcement is using to charge you with trafficking, you need to take the situation seriously and formulate a formidable defense strategy.
How Long Do Drug Trafficking Investigations Take in Texas?
The short answer: It varies, but more likely than not, a long time.
Take for instance an operation finally shut down last month involving drug traffickers with Mexican cartel ties. The Star Telegram reported that federal, state, and local authorities investigated nearly five years before finally moving in on a ring distributing narcotics in North Texas.
Thirteen suspects were arrested after FBI agents raided a home just across the street from an elementary school in Grand Prairie and seized 380 grams of heroin, five kilograms of meth, and a shotgun. In conjunction with the same investigation, seven weapons and cocaine were being discovered and seized from two other locations in Dallas at the same time.
If the suspects are convicted, they stand to face 40 years in federal prison and a $5 million fine each.
Just five short months prior to that, in order to send a clear message to drug trafficking criminals in the North Texas area, a core of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials gathered for a press-conference to detail two large trafficking ring busts.
One operation lasted nearly two years, including a probe leading up to opening a 9-month investigation to uncover the operation’s kingpin, the numerous residences and 10-plus hotels the ring operated from, and the trafficking of more than 10 kilograms (22lbs+) of methamphetamine, and a kilogram (2lbs+) of heroin.
A federal indictment against 13 people alleged conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth and heroin, and if convicted, each defendant faces 20 years in fed prison and a $1 million fine.
In the other, 25 individuals were charged in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine across four North Texas cities. This resulted from a nearly four-year investigation into a drug trafficking enterprise conducted by federal, state, and local authorities that revealed a “fluid hierarchy” in which leadership changed when necessary.
In other words, when certain members were out of commission (say, because they were arrested on unrelated charges), others took over operations, and a portion of the profits from drug sales were regularly reinvested into more product.
This ring was found to have been operating between about September of 2014 and December 2017.
Why are drug trafficking investigations so lengthy? Because infiltrating a drug trafficking ring and identifying its members can be a complicated and time-consuming process.
There are many reasons for this.
Protocols Must Be Followed Carefully Every Step of The Way in Texas
We can start with every citizen’s Fourth Amendment right, which protects the right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary governmental intrusions (search and seizure).
Furthermore, if a court determines an unreasonable search or seizure was conducted during an investigation, then any evidence obtained during the search cannot be used as direct evidence in court.
Although the Constitution does not specifically define probable cause, it usually depends on the totality of the circumstances – everything the arresting officers know or reasonable believe at the time the arrest is made. However, if a court deems there is a lack of probable cause, any evidence resulting from that arrest must be suppressed. Likewise, if a search or seizure is determined to have been illegal – no warrant, no probable cause – evidence may be thrown out.
There is so much on the line when investigating an alleged drug trafficking organization that law enforcement typically takes as much as is required to properly establish probable cause. Officials want to make sure that they can maintain any evidence gathered along the way to build the case for that much bigger of a bust.
Texas Trafficking Investigations Tend to Be a Bottom-Up Process
Beyond following proper protocols, the length of a drug trafficking investigation is often tied to where it begins. You’re not going to see a drug trafficking ringleader walking around with their pockets stuffed full of money and drugs while brandishing a firearm.
This means that, most of the time, investigations begin with filing possession charges against the end user of the illicit drugs passed through the trafficking ring. So, when law enforcement must follow protocol to stay within citizens’ rights and they start from the bottom, it simply takes a lot of manhours for officials to work their way up the trafficking chain.
This is only the beginning. Other contributing factors to how long a given drug trafficking investigation may take include, but are not limited to:
- Quality of tips and leads.Every tip and lead that comes in receives follow up, from evaluation to potential follow through… but obviously not every tip and lead provides direction or insight. Either way, some amount of time is spent on investigating them.
- Building relationships and rapport.Those involved in illicit drugs from the bottom up are understandably wary of newcomers. It takes time to get close to important parties, and to build enough trust to be allowed in on important information needed to secure the proper evidence in cases as large as these can be.
- Physical geography of ring.Drug trafficking can span countries, states, counties, cities and – as the above cases show – multiple locations within a given city. When it comes to investigations, distance equals time.
- Number of physical bodies involved in the investigation.Whether it’s the number of suspects being tracked or the number of agencies coordinating efforts, the more people involved, the more time the investigation takes.
- Resources dedicated to the investigation.Typically, the cut of resources dedicated to the investigation and management of crimes involving drugs in each law enforcement agency is significant. However, when investigations are taking place within smaller jurisdictions, they are likely performing them with less resources.
- Gathering enough evidence to support a final bust.Every other contributing factor involves gathering evidence to make that final bust. Any errors along the way are liable to aid in a given trafficking suspect’s defense strategy, setting back an investigation overall.
Ultimately, the primary mission of every collaborative drug trafficking investigation is to identify, disrupt, dismantle, and prosecute the most high-level members of illicit drug trafficking rings as possible, because the higher up in the trafficking chain the bust, the more likely law enforcement ends the trafficking crimes associated with the ring altogether.
Because of everything and everyone involved in taking down criminal enterprises such as this, the investigation process can easily take months, or even years.
What this means for you is that you should never assume you’re in the clear just because you haven’t been arrested or charged. If you believe that there is a possibility that you could be under investigation, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to speak with a knowledgeable Texas criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
Defense Strategies That Can Help with Texas Drug Trafficking Charges
If you are facing drug trafficking charges in Texas, there are several defense strategies that a skilled attorney will know how to employ if they are right for your specific circumstances.
In this post, we’re going to detail some of the most common defenses that are used to fight drug trafficking charges and how a knowledgeable lawyer can assist you.
Common Defenses to Drug Trafficking Charges in Texas
Lack of Possession
You may be able to use this defense if you were among a group of the true offenders, but you did not participate in the crime yourself. For example, you may have been a passenger in a vehicle or a member of a gang where drugs were found, but none were found in your possession.
Unaware of Possession
This defense may work if you can prove that you had no knowledge of the drugs found in your possession. For example, you may have been given an item of clothing to wear that had drugs stashed in the pockets. Similarly, you may have been asked to deliver a package that contained drugs without your awareness.
Search and Seizure Rights Violations
You have rights to proper arrest procedures protected under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A police officer cannot stop you without probable cause. Law enforcement officials cannot open your trunk or raid your house without following proper procedure. If your rights were violated, your case can be dismissed.
Purity of Drug in Question
The drugs that are seized at the scene of the crime are taken to the crime lab for analysis. If the purity of the drug does not match what was described in your charges, the case may be thrown out.
Seized drugs are held in police possession during the prosecution process. If for any reason the same drugs from the crime scene are not admitted as evidence in your case, you cannot be tried for trafficking of a different substance.
Drugs Were Planted
In rare circumstances this defense may apply. If you have evidence to support the fact that someone else planted the drugs in your case, a skilled Ft. Worth criminal attorney can argue this defense on your behalf.
Item Not for Human Consumption
Sometimes the substance perceived to be an illegal drug is a material not intended for human consumption, such as hemp for making rope. If this is true, drug trafficking charges cannot apply.
You may have been threatened with serious bodily injury or death unless you trafficked drugs. Or someone may have threatened a loved one unless you carried out the crime. In these situations, the defense of duress may work.
If a law enforcement officer or informant convinced you to traffic drugs that you otherwise would not have, you may be able to use this defense.
Fighting Your Drug Trafficking Charges
Even if the drugs in your case were intended for personal use, the amount, weight, and type of the drug can make the offense qualify as drug trafficking. Additionally, if there is any evidence of participation in a distribution network, drug trafficking charges will apply.
Harsh consequences apply for drug trafficking in Texas. Penalties start at 6 to 12 months in jail and up to a $10,000 fine for a state jail felony. Some drug trafficking convictions require minimum sentences lasting 25 years or more and fines reaching into six figures. The most severe penalty for a first-degree felony could result in a life sentence and up to $250,000 in fines.
That’s why it’s essential to get the help of an aggressive criminal defense attorney who can find a viable defense for your case. An experienced Texas lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation into all the details surrounding your case, including the actions of law enforcement officers.
We will look closely at whether the police obtained a valid warrant for search and seizure. Since a drug trafficking case hinges on criminal intent, we will work hard to find proof that acts were unintentional.
If you’re ready to build the strongest possible defense against your drug trafficking charges, call us today for a free case review. We will work hard to protect your reputation and your freedoms.
What Makes Drug Trafficking in Texas into a Federal Case?
Because any drug crime can technically be made into a federal case, it’s important to know when the federal government is interested making it one.
In this article, we’re going to look at some examples of trafficking and go over the reasons why feds have taken an interest in these specific cases.
Our goal is to help you understand why your drug trafficking offense may be charged at the federal level instead of at the state level here in Texas – but first we’re going to talk a bit about trafficking in general.
Defining Drug Trafficking – in Texas and Beyond
Drug trafficking is most simply defined as the crime of unlawful importing, transporting, or selling of illegal controlled substances or prescription drugs.
Drug trafficking charges are like drug possession charges in that one is accused of knowingly possessing an illegal controlled substance in either case.
What separates mere possession of drugs (for personal use, say) from trafficking them is whether proof of importing or transporting and/or proof that the possessor intended to sell and/or deliver the drugs can be produced. Charging an act as trafficking rather than possession automatically elevates it to felony status.
How Do State and Federal Prosecutors Prove Trafficking?
Essentially, a prosecutor must produce circumstantial evidence indicating that the person in possession of the drugs in question did not solely intend to use them him- or herself.
Examples of physical evidence could include but is not limited to:
- devices for measuring drugs
- packaging that one can reasonably assume is used for distributing drugs (small plastic baggies, for instance)
- business cards
- large amounts of cash
- written or electronic record keeping related to sales
Non-physical proof can be testimony from witnesses who were personally involved in buying or selling of the drugs, or who can confirm the exchange of money and drugs between a defendant and others. Witness testimony that includes details regarding a wider operation is also considered circumstantial proof.
This is a good point to note, because when you’re ready to seek legal counsel, it’s imperative that you reach out to someone with a track record of success dealing with drug charges to help you navigate the murky waters of circumstantial evidence.
Why Your Trafficking Charge Might Be a Federal Case
Legally, federal courts can select – at their discretion – any case involving a federal offense. Because extensive drug laws exist both at the state level and the federal level, with a significant amount of overlap, the truth of the matter is that pretty much any drug charges could be tried at the federal level.
However, the federal government is primarily interested in big cases. Often, they view drug trafficking as a crime of weight and measurement, though there are a few other specifics that may cause it to draw more interest.
Your case is more likely to end up in federal court if your situation involves at least one of the following:
Larger Amounts of Drugs – When you are carrying far more cocaine than what might be considered typical for personal use, Federal prosecutors could suspect a link between you and a more extensive network – like South American trafficking rings where cocaine is primarily produced, or the cartels that traffic them via Central America.
Intrastate Movement – If your charges involve using a national organization like the US Postal Service, or the acts you are accused of being engaged in crossed state lines, it is also reasonable to assume they will draw federal attention – especially considering the fact that Texas has both national and international borders.
Special Interest – Special interests are those topics that currently have heightened media and societal attention. A look at the timeline for the War on Drugs will explain the history of special interests in drug crimes, and current events can always point to a few key areas of federal interest, as well.
Although the more current Opioid Crisis has since overshadowed it, only little more than a decade ago the federal government was strong-arming the trafficking of methamphetamines over state lines in order to curtail that crisis.
When nearly 68% of overdose deaths are attributed to opiates today, it’s no surprise that societal attention has turned to this issue, and the current political climate regarding immigration lends to a harder-lined focus on where drugs like cocaine are produced (primarily South America), and what borders (Mexico/Texas) were crossed to get them into the US.
Ultimately, with penalties skyrocketing, sentences reaching life in prison, and mandatory minimums in place at the federal level, drug trafficking can be one of the most serious charges you can face today.
We are seeing incarceration from drug-related offenses at all-time highs, and without a good understanding of how your Texas drug charges fit with federal interests, you could very well be risking your entire future if you don’t act immediately to start putting together the strongest possible defense the second you get arrested or charged.
Mandatory Minimums for Texas Drug Trafficking Convictions?
In Texas, sentencing for drug trafficking crimes at the state level is still left up to the discretion of the judge who hears your case.
Based on criminal history and any mitigating or aggravating factors, the right Ft. Worth drug trafficking defense attorney may be able to negotiate your sentence down to the lower end of the penalty range.
Cross state lines with any significant amount of a controlled substance, however, and your case may quickly become one of federal interest. Although key changes to drug laws may be happening in the near future, Texas drug trafficking convictions are still subject to mandatory minimums today.
In this post, we share what those new statutes say, explain how mandatory minimums for drug trafficking crimes in Texas work, and what that could mean for your case.
The First Step Act and Federal Drug Trafficking
The First Step Act was designed to address the fact that more than 66 percent of those serving federal-level life terms received their sentences following convictions on nonviolent crimes (like drug possession and trafficking).
The Act is expanding opportunities for participating in rehabilitation and recidivism reduction programs, among other things. Here are a few of the other life-altering changes the Resentencing Provisions portion of the law has made that could affect your drug trafficking charges:
- Sentencing provisions allow for an average 29.4 percent cut in sentencing.
- The “three strikes” rule was replaced with a 25-year sentence.
- Federal judges have been granted greater discretion in deviating from mandatory minimums on nonviolent drug convictions.
Although it is considered a “modest” first step in correcting the over-steering we’ve experienced through federal mandatory minimums set in the 1980s, this piece of legislation signed into law in December 2018 is a major overhaul to federal sentencing – the first of its kind in decades, in fact.
The United States Sentencing Commission recently reported that more than a thousand prisoners have already been granted sentence cuts.
Why does that matter for Texas charges? Because changes at the federal level often impact the way crimes are charged and sentenced on the state level. At the very least, it tends to make legislators take a long, hard look at existing state laws.
That said, you’d be wise to understand mandatory minimums as they relate to federal drug trafficking charges anyway.
Perspective Continues to Shift Among Texas Lawmakers
Most of the changes currently happening at the state level involve the way Texans look at cannabis. The state has already legalized medical marijuana use and continues to expand recognition of the medicinal value of its oil derivatives.
Specifically, our legislators recently legalized the manufacturing of hemp and CBD products, which has inadvertently led to the dismissal of dozens of drug-related cases across the state.
Also, Texas is on its way to becoming one more state to remove the threat of incarceration based on mere marijuana possession charges.
These are among the 63 total cannabis-related bills sitting on the governor’s desk. So, while mandatory minimums do still exist, your chances of being subject to them are continuously being reduced as harsh penalties are being replaced with forethought and opportunities to rehabilitate.
Current Mandatory Minimums for Drug Trafficking in Texas
Firstly, they are exactly what the term sounds like – the least amount of jail time you should receive for certain crimes – and according to the laws in place, the penalties are quite harsh.
Sentencing by Substance
There are four drug types (aside from marijuana) that tend to surface when it comes to drug trafficking charges in Texas. Based on the amounts you’ve been caught trafficking, the mandatory minimums associated regularly follow a general pattern.
Here are the threshold amounts for each of the most common drug trafficking charges in this state:
Cocaine: Under and over 50 grams
Fentanyl: Under and over 400 grams
Heroin: Under and over 1 kilogram
Methamphetamine: Under and over 50 grams
These are the under/over sentences you can expect upon conviction…
Under a certain amount:
- First offense, no serious bodily injury: five years
- First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years
- Second or more offense, no bodily injury: 10 years
- Second or more offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life
Over a certain amount:
- First offense, no serious bodily injury: 10 years
- First offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: 20 years
- Second offense, no bodily injury: 20 years
- Second offense with serious bodily harm or death as a result: Life
- Third offense regardless of bodily injury: Life
Other Factors in How a Judge Decides
Final sentences are based on drug type and amount. Aggravating factors and whether you have prior convictions from drug charges are two other considerations made.
Further, you must understand that there is no option for parole in federal prison. Although legislation like the First Step Act may offer reductions in your time behind bars, you will be serving what’s left of your sentence there.
All these factors combined are why it is still imperative that you secure the very best representation. This will ensure your best opportunity to fight back against mandatory minimums on your possible Texas drug trafficking conviction.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.