In Texas, distribution of a controlled substance is the transporting, importing, or selling of a controlled substance. The penalties related to a conviction can vary, depending on the type and amount of narcotics seized. No matter what, getting charged with distribution is a serious matter that can change your life drastically.
A conviction for distribution of a controlled substance can lead to a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines. You don't have to face a matter this serious on your own; an experienced criminal defense attorney can guide you through this difficult process and help develop the strongest defense possible. If you find yourself in legal jeopardy, the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC is here to help.
Elements of Distribution of a Controlled Substance
According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, you can be charged with distribution if you “deliver a controlled substance other than by administering or dispensing the substance.” The code also defines “deliver” as:
to transfer, actually or constructively, to another a controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or drug paraphernalia, regardless of whether there is an agency relationship. The term includes offering to sell a controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or drug paraphernalia.
In laymen's terms, you have committed distribution of a controlled substance in Texas if you unlawfully delivered a controlled substance to another person. It's important to note that there is no requirement that money changed hands. This definition is fairly broad, meaning you could face distribution charges even you weren't selling narcotics. For example, simply sharing prescription medication with a friend before a long flight or a stressful college exam could meet the standard described above.
Possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance can be proven in court through either direct or circumstantial evidence. An example of direct evidence is officer testimony or a video recording of a transfer of narcotics. This type of evidence is most common in sting operations and controlled drug buys. However, in most cases, the prosecutor must rely on circumstantial evidence. When proving intent, a prosecutor may rely on a number of factors including:
- the reputation of the area in which the accused was arrested;
- the quantity of the controlled substance;
- the way the substance was packaged;
- the presence of drug paraphernalia;
- the presence of large amounts of paper bills; and
- whether the accused is a known drug user.
In addition to circumstantial evidence, the state may also rely on expert testimony from law enforcement to establish intent.
The penalties for a distribution conviction are outlined in the Texas Health and Safety Code. There are two factors that determine the sentencing range:
- The penalty group a substance is in; and
- The quantity of the controlled substance that was seized.
There are four penalty groups, with Penalty Group 1 being the most serious and Penalty Group 4 carrying the lowest sentencing range. All controlled substances are listed in one of the four groups, except for marijuana which is treated differently.
Penalty Group 1
Penalty Group 1 is home to the most addictive drugs that have the fewest viable medical uses. This group includes cocaine, heroin, morphine, and methamphetamine. It also includes common “date rape” drugs like Rohypnol and ketamine. The sentencing range for Penalty Group 1 is 180 days to 99 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Penalty Group 2
Penalty Group 2 is made up primarily of hallucinogens like mescaline and mushrooms. It has a sentencing range between 180 days and 99 years in prison. The fine cannot exceed $100,000.
Penalty Groups 3 and 4
Penalty Groups 3 and 4 are often lumped together because they share identical sentencing guidelines. Group 3 is primarily depressants like barbiturates, while Group 4 includes substances including active ingredients in some medication. The sentencing range starts at 180 days and goes up to 99 years. The maximum fine is $50,000.
Marijuana is in its own category. While still serious, a distribution of marijuana charge carries a lighter punishment for small amounts than any of the penalty groups. However, the maximum sentence is 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
There are defenses to every criminal charge, and distribution charges are no different. While some of the defenses often raised in these cases are common across all crimes, other defenses are specific to possessing or distributing a controlled substance. An attorney will rely on his or her experience to determine what viable defenses fit your case.
Lack of Knowledge
To be convicted of distribution, you must knowingly distribute a controlled substance. That means that if you were unaware that you were even in possession of a controlled substance you aren't criminally liable. Misunderstandings happen, and an experienced attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor that you haven't committed a crime.
Mistake of Fact
A mistake of fact occurs when you distribute a controlled substance due to a reasonable belief it was a different, legal substance. For example, if you are arrested for distributing marijuana and you convince the jury you believe it to be oregano, you may get a verdict in your favor.
Not Intended for Human Use
Some controlled substances may be illegal for human use but otherwise allowed for other purposes with a proper license. For instance, some controlled substances that are otherwise illegal can be possessed legally with the appropriate license if the substance is designed for animal use.
Unlawful Search and Seizure
You have constitutional rights regardless of whether you are facing criminal charges. If law enforcement unlawfully searches or seizes your property, any evidence they find can't be used against you. An experienced defense attorney will know how to properly exclude that evidence.
The Law Office of E. Jason Leach
Even if you've been charged with distribution of a controlled substance, you still have an opportunity to defend yourself in front of a jury of your peers. It is up to the state to prove their case, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can help show the jury that burden hasn't been met. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified expert in criminal defense and has the experience to help you put your best defense forward. Contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC to set up a free consultation.