There are many factors that go into charges and penalties for Texas drug crimes. Unfortunately, not all of these factors are fair to the offender.
How so? There are many laws throughout Texas and the country at large that purposely and unfairly increase the penalties against people accused of using or dealing drugs.
One of the first and most notorious of these laws established “drug-free zones.” These laws still exist today, and if you are charged with committing drug crimes in these areas, you could face especially harsh penalties if you don’t get in touch with a knowledgeable lawyer quickly.
What Are Drug-Free Zones?
Drug-free zones are one part of the country’s notorious and failed attempt at a “War on Drugs.” Back before the term was even used to describe the harsh penalties for drug crimes, American lawmakers created “drug-free zones” in areas around schools. If someone engaged in a drug crime at these locations or within a certain distance, they faced increased penalties.
The intention behind these laws was to keep drug dealers from doing business with children and to prevent them from being exposed to drugs. However, as the War on Drugs marched forward, these intentions were lost in the desire to enforce “law and order” through unfair penalties.
How Do Drug-Free Zones Work in Texas?
Let’s look at what Texas considers a “drug-free zone.” When you think of keeping drug-free zones around a “school,” you probably immediately think about elementary or middle schools. However, Texas has expanded the definition of a “drug-free zone” to include any place within 1,000 feet of universities, playgrounds, and public swimming pools as well.
Texas is not the only state to expand drug-free zones to places where adults live and work, either. Many states have even extended the definition of a drug-free zone to include public housing.
This isn’t an accident. Extending drug-free zones to places like public housing specifically targets lower-income people. The penalties for possessing or selling drugs in a drug-free zone are especially harsh, increasing the likelihood that a lower-income person will face harsher charges and fines.
Just as bad, if you expand drug-free zones to places where adults frequently live and work, it takes away the incentive to avoid schools. If you are facing the same harsh charges next to an elementary school, the University of Texas, or a swimming pool, there is no point to specifically stay away from the school itself.
Getting caught with controlled substances in a drug-free zone here bumps your charges up to the next highest charge. For example, if you would have normally been charged with a felony in the third degree, being in a drug-free zone bumps your charges up to a felony in the second degree. The difference in these two charges could result in extra years behind bars or thousands of dollars in fines – even if you are just charged with drug possession.
What to Do If You Are Charged in Texas
If you are charged with a drug crime in a drug-free zone, you will have to work extra hard to build a defense strategy to reduce your sentence or get your charges dropped entirely. Luckily, there are strategies that can help.
In addition to the typical defenses to drug charges, Texas is one of seven states that actually makes exceptions to our drug-free zone laws. If you did not earn a profit while the crime was allegedly committed and there were no children physically present in the drug-free zone, you may not face the additional penalties.
Whatever you do, don’t take drug charges lying down.
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.