Houston Criminal Law Blog

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Drug Crimes Can Destroy Your Life

Drug abuse and addiction are thought to cost Americans nearly half a trillion dollars annually. Approximately 16.4% of all prisoners committed their crimes in order to get money for drugs. In an effort to curtail drug abuse, Texas has enacted the Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes drugs into different schedules based upon their severity. The various categories of drugs listed under this act are:

  • Schedule I – Drugs for which there is no medical use that also have a high potential for abuse. Examples include LSD, ecstasy and heroin.
  • Schedule II – Substances that have a high potential for abuse and a risk of severe dependence. Some Schedule II drugs are cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP.
  • Schedule III – Drugs-have a currently-accepted medical use, high risk of psychological dependence or moderate risk of physical dependence. Steroids are included in this category.
  • Schedule IV – Consist of longer-acting barbiturates.
  • Schedule V – Substances that include narcotics such as opium and codeine.

Marijuana and its derivatives are in their own penalty group. It is also illegal to transport anhydrous ammonia in an unapproved container, or to tamper with an approved anhydrous ammonia container in an effort to extract it. This law is targeted towards those who manufacture methamphetamine.

Types of Drug Offenses

The number of drug offenses range from mere possession of an illegal substance to manufacturing or dealing in it. Even though several states have enacted medical marijuana laws, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 that the federal government has the right to prosecute its own marijuana laws, regardless of what state laws are. Drug crimes can also be state or federal violations. When drugs are taken over state lines, or offenses are committed on federal property, they become federal violations that are then prosecuted by the Drug Enforcement Agency or a similar law enforcement bureau. The DEA made an estimated 30,476 arrests during calendar year 2012.

Arrest Data for Doing Drugs

Drug abuse arrests reached more than 1.5 million in 2012, according to information from the FBI. Of those arrests, most were for the sale or manufacture of illegal substances, which includes synthetic drugs. In addition, a number of other arrests also include drugs, as 14% of all offenders reported being on marijuana or hashish at the time of their arrest. Four percent were abusing cocaine or crack, and one percent was taking heroin or other opiates. Nearly three-quarters of all drug crime arrestees are male. Around 69 percent are white, 28 percent are black, and the remainder are of other races. Offenses do not stop once a person is incarcerated, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that as many as two-thirds of all jail inmates continue to abuse after being placed behind bars.

Consequences for Drug Crimes

Illegal substance offenses can bring a prison term of up to 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Police may also seize personal property if they determine it was used in the commission of a crime. The U.S. Justice Department was managing more than $1.8 billion in assets in 2011. The exact punishment will depend on:

  • The penalty group they are associated with
  • Amount in question
  • Previous drug offenses

An individual who sells drugs to children, or has children assist in manufacturing or growing them will also be treated more harshly. The location of an offense will also play a role in the sentence, since judges tend to give harsher sentences to those who operate near “safe zones” such as schools. Officers are increasingly using social media to pinpoint drug dealers who operate near safe zones. A recent FBI task force resulted in 350 arrests, and netted more than $2 million in cash and drugs, worth an estimated street value of $7 million.

Building a Narcotics Case

Police officers work long hard hours in order to make an arrest, as many come from “sting” operations or extended surveillance. In their effort to secure an arrest, detectives are sometimes careless in the way they obtain evidence, or rely too heavily on the use of informants. The result is that much of the evidence gathered must be suppressed because it is tainted. Some examples include:

  • Illegal searches and seizures
  • Inaccurate information from informants
  • Entrapment
  • Planting of evidence
  • Illegal phone tapping

It’s interesting to note that not knowing drugs are there is not a valid defense. As such, an individual could still be arrested if another person left drugs in a home or vehicle, even if he or she was unaware this had happened. The wrongful use of informants accounts for 16% of all wrongful convictions in the United States. A defense attorney will look for gaps in an informant’s story in an effort to expose fabricated testimony, and may also ask that any evidence not obtained through legal methods be suppressed. Other defenses may be available as well, which is why the accused should speak with an attorney as soon as possible after being arrested.

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