Mandatory Minimums for Texas Drug Trafficking Convictions?

July 13, 2019 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Mandatory Minimums for Texas Drug Trafficking Convictions?
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.

Fort Worth Drug Trafficking Lawyer

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 drugs trafficking 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

Current Mandatory Minimums for Drug Trafficking in Texas

Generally speaking, 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 of 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.

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